Troubleshooting Unresponsive Bluetooth Devices in Mac OS X

by Matt

Problem: Your Bluetooth device has worked in the past (maybe even minutes ago), but now it won’t respond. Alternatively, your Mac keeps telling you the device is connected, then disconnected, then connected, and so on.

Solution: While software bugs can prevent your Mac from communicating with a Bluetooth device, more often than not, there’s something wrong with the device when it becomes unresponsive. The common exception is that some WiFi network signals can interfere with Bluetooth reception, so you might try turning off your AirPort connection just to be sure. Otherwise, here are some troubleshooting steps you can take to get your device back up and running:

  • If your device uses batteries, try a new set. The batteries often die without warning.
  • Make sure your Mac and your device have Bluetooth turned on, and that your device is discoverable. (If you’re not sure how to make your device discoverable, you’ll probably have to read the device’s manual, as this feature varies from device to device.)
  • Restart your Mac and turn your device off and then back on (remembering to turn on Bluetooth if necessary).
  • Open the Bluetooth system preference and select your troubled device from the device list. At the bottom of the window, click on the Gear button, which may show an option called “Connect.” If it does, choose this to see if Mac OS X can force a connection to your device. (You know the device is connected if the status below the device’s name is “Connected.”).
  • If you can connect to your device, you may feel Mac OS X does not recognize all the services the device offers. To attempt to remedy this, select your device from the list in the Bluetooth system preference, select the Gear button, and then choose to “Update Services.” You may need to select “Show More Info” from the Gear icon’s list before you can choose to “Update Device Services.”
  • If you cannot find any way to resolve your problem, you might try deleting your device from the devices list in the Bluetooth system preference (by selecting the device and pressing the minus button) and then adding the device again. (You can follow the steps outlined in the previous section if you have trouble pairing the device). Try restarting your computer between deleting the devices and re-pairing it. If all else fails, you can delete the files listed in the previous section on “Setting up a Bluetooth Device,” restart, and re-pair the device with your computer. This allows Mac OS X to create a fresh settings file for your device.
The Bluetooth system preference lists Bluetooth devices and their properties. If you can’t see the property list, select “Show More Info” from the gear menu.

To ensure that your Bluetooth device reconnects to your Mac whenever you restart your Mac or have it come out of sleep, you should add the device to your favorites list. To do this, open the Bluetooth system preference and select your device from the list. Click the Gear button and select “Add to Favorites.” This tells Mac OS X you want to connect to the device whenever possible.

Did this tip work for you? How else have you been able to get your unresponsive Bluetooth devices working in OS X? Let others know in the comments.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 mona_hoda May 3, 2012 at 8:03 pm

Download bluetooth setup assistant

2 Carrie January 9, 2013 at 8:04 am

Just had this problem. Mouse worked fine yesterday, but today wouldn’t work. Last night, my iMac froze. The mouse worked fine, but nothing else did. I don’t know if that is related to my mouse not working today. The batteries were good. I used keyboard shortcuts to get to some Google search troubleshooting and then get into my preferences. My mouse was shown in the Bluetooth device window, just not connected. I clicked the gear to attempt to manually connect, and it would say that it was connected for a few seconds even though I still couldn’t control the mouse. Then the connection would drop again. What finally helped was clicking the gear icon and selecting “Update Services.” I didn’t know what this would do at the time – I was just trying everything. But my mouse was discovered and connected after clicking it. If I understand correctly, the my computer stopped recognizing all the services my mouse offers, and the “Update Services” clued it back in? Is this common? Thanks for the article.

3 Aniko January 23, 2013 at 4:00 pm

Thank you! This information was very useful and the first among many to work. Still unable to connect my iPhone but the priority was the wireless mouse.

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