audio

Kris Wouk / How-To Geek

Multipoint Bluetooth aims to let your earbuds, headphones, or portable speaker pull double duty, switching between taking calls on your phone and watching a movie on your laptop. But how does that work, and how can it work for you?

The History of Multipoint Bluetooth

While Bluetooth makes life easier in a few ways, it’s incredibly frustrating in others. Pairing a Bluetooth device isn’t a fun process when it works seamlessly, and it’s just plain painful when your devices aren’t cooperating. Bluetooth multipoint was created to help alleviate this issue by letting you connect to multiple devices with one headset or speaker.

While multipoint has been around for longer than you may think, Bluetooth itself predates multipoint by 10 years. The first Bluetooth devices launched in 1999, and Bluetooth really began to take off in 2000.

The Bluetooth Special Interest Group, or SIG, introduced Bluetooth multipoint in 2010, but you probably didn’t hear of it until long after. Initially, multipoint Bluetooth was aimed at professionals making calls, and it’s only relatively recently multipoint has made it into consumer devices.

What is Multipoint Bluetooth Good For?

As mentioned above, Bluetooth’s pairing process isn’t one most people are keen to repeat. Multipoint Bluetooth lets you connect one headset or speaker to two playback devices. The Bluetooth device then switches between devices depending on a variety of contexts.

For example, imagine you’re wearing a set of earbuds connected to your phone. With multipoint, you can pair with your computer as well and use your earbuds to watch YouTube videos. When your phone rings, you can answer it and your earbuds will automatically switch over to take the call.

The above example is how most people tend to use multipoint Bluetooth, but as mentioned above, it was originally meant for people who spent most of their time making calls. Multipoint lets you easily switch between a work phone and a personal phone, for example.

How Does Multipoint Bluetooth Work?

All Bluetooth devices work by an ad-hoc mini network. This lets you use multiple wireless mice, game controllers, or other devices without needing to have any sort of hub, as you would with a Wi-Fi network. The downside is that Bluetooth is limited to a relatively short range, around 30 to 100 feet depending on the technology used, but that’s plenty of range for most cases.

When it comes to Bluetooth audio devices in a typical connection, there would only be two devices on the network: your Bluetooth audio device, and your playback device. The audio device would be your headset or speaker, while the playback device is your phone or computer.

Bluetooth multipoint slightly adjusts the above by allowing multiple source devices connected to the playback device. The playback device controls both source devices, choosing which one to play audio from.

WIth the above example of earbuds connected to a phone or a computer, tapping the pause / resume button would pause and resume your video. Once your phone rings, however, tapping the same button would pause the video, switch audio to your phone, and answer the call. At least, that’s how it should ideally work.

Limitations of Multipoint Bluetooth

In every scenario we’ve looked at, there is a single audio device like a speaker or headphones, then multiple playback devices. This is the only way that multipoint Bluetooth works.

Multipoint Bluetooth doesn’t let you connect a speaker and a headset to a computer, then switch back and forth based on which one you press play on. While this may be possible, it’s not part of the multipoint Bluetooth specification.

Multipoint is also typically limited to a pair of source devices, though with a version of multipoint known as Triple Connectivity, that number goes up to three. That is the upper limit, and so far, there is no version of multipoint that lets you connect four or more source devices.

Another limitation of multipoint Bluetooth is that it won’t play sound from each source device at the same time. This isn’t something most people would use very often anyway, but keep in mind that this may mean your earbuds will stop playing audio from a YouTube video to play a notification chime from your phone, for example.

Finally, multipoint Bluetooth doesn’t come free. Manufacturers need to build it into their headphones or other audio products, and this raises the overall cost of the product.

For this reason, you didn’t find multipoint in many consumer devices for years. Even now, while multipoint is available in more products than ever, it’s still far from ubiquitous.

If you’re wondering if you already have multipoint built into a device you already own, it can be tricky to find out. There isn’t just one way to pair with multiple devices using multipoint, so you can’t always just try and see if it works. The easiest way to find out if a product you own supports multipoint is to check via the manufacturer’s website.

Different Types of Multipoint

The most basic form of multipoint Bluetooth is known as simple multipoint. This lets you connect to multiple devices, including multiple phones, but answering a call on one while connected on the other will hang up the other call when it switches. Simple multipoint is the type you find most often in consumer devices.

Advanced multipoint is meant more for business users. It’s mostly similar to simple multipoint, but when switching calls, this type of multipoint puts the first call on hold instead of simply hanging up. Triple connectivity, as the name implies, allows three source devices instead of two.

Finally, you have proprietary solutions that do what multipoint Bluetooth does, only in a different way. Both Apple and Samsung, for example, have an alternative that uses your account details to intelligently switch audio to whichever device you may be using at a given moment.

As mentioned above, multipoint doesn’t allow audio from one source to play on multiple devices. That said, Bluetooth 5.0 introduced a feature that allows just this. This feature may have different names from manufacturer to manufacturer, but it’s part of the core Bluetooth 5.0 specification.

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