Where did all the IrDA ports go?

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Setting off to the East Bay for the family Easter gathering, I want to program the address into my GPS. But using the on-screen UI of this particular Garmin is painful—shouldn’t I be able to beam a vCard to it, and then just say “go there”?

This particular model has an infrared port on it that supports both consumer IR (for the remote control) and IrDA, ostensibly for receiving vCards via OBEX Push.
But none of my current-model electronics have IrDA ports on them any more. Neither my ThinkPad nor my iPhone have one, and I’m quite tempted to pull out an old Sony-Ericsson phone or an iPaq Pocket PC, to see if it actually works.
(On a side-note, why can’t any current smart phone match that iPaq in terms of connectivity? It supported IrDA, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Compact-Flash for more memory or additional I/O, and even had a fingerprint scanner.)
So where did all the IR ports go? Once upon a time, they had been removed from the latest Mac laptop models in the final stages of engineering. And then Steve Jobs went to Europe, where everyone and his brother was beaming vCards back and forth, between their phones and laptops. Guess what happened when he returned to Cupertino?
I’m not sure how they disappeared again, but Steve was wrong on this one.
IrDA ports have several advantages over Bluetooth for small-scale data exchange, which have implications for power consumption, security, and privacy.
  • You don’t have to leave your device discoverable all of the time just to enable easy exchange of data
  • You never have to pair with a device just to exchange a phone number one time
  • You can leave IrDA on all the time and quickly receive a bunch of contacts rapid-fire, choosing to accept or reject them one-by-one, based on the content instead of a generic or funky device name that doesn’t give any clue as to who is pushing data towards your device
And in this usage case, the ability to push an address to a navigation device, IrDA is the one method that is both easy and operates in a manner that gives the sender a good sense of security. If I want to beam an address to the GPS in a friend’s car, a taxi, airport shuttle, I do not want to pair via Bluetooth, because I don’t want my whole address book to be transmitted to a device I can’t control and may never see again (not to even mention how much longer this would take).
So can we please bring back IrDA and OBEX Push for vCards?

Author: Peter Sheerin

Peter Sheerin is best known for the decade he spent as the Technical Editor of CADENCE magazine, where he was the acknowledged expert in Computer-Aided Design hardware and software. He has a long-standing passion for improving usability of software, hardware, and everyday objects that is always interwoven in his articles. Peter is available for freelance technical writing and product reviews, and is exploring career opportunities in interaction design. His pet personal project is exploring the best ways to harmonize visual, tactile, and audible symbols for improving the effectiveness of alerting systems.

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