How to Fix Randomly Disconnecting Bluetooth Keyboards & Devices

May 6, 2013 - 17 Comments

Bluetooth logo

Bluetooth devices are usually extremely reliable, but every once in a while something can start acting up and either lose it’s connection with the Mac completely, or suddenly develop a flaky connection. With something like the Apple Wireless Keyboard, a Magic Trackpad, or a Magic Mouse, it’s fairly obvious when something is going wrong; clicks will stop registering, keys will get stuck typing a character, the device will randomly disconnect, or you’ll get stuck in an annoying “Connection Lost” to “Connected” loop that flashes the device logos on screen like this:

Bluetooth "Connected" and "Connection Lost" error on a Mac

This can get stuck in a constant loop that reoccurs every few seconds or minutes, and when this happens something is up with the connection. Fortunately, it’s usually really quick to resolve, and if you find yourself battling connectivity issues with some wireless accessories, here are seven troubleshooting tips to get your Bluetooth device working as intended again with Mac OS X.

1: Check the Battery Level

The first thing you’ll want to do is check the battery level of Bluetooth devices. All Apple branded Bluetooth hardware like the Apple Wireless Keyboard, Magic Mouse, and Magic Trackpad, will relay the precise battery level through the Bluetooth menu. Some third party devices will show this information as well. All you need to do is pull down the Bluetooth menu item, go down to the device name, and look next to “Battery Level” to see the remaining percentage:

Check Bluetooth devices battery life quickly

Do note this is not entirely accurate with all batteries, and some devices seem to inaccurately report levels all the time. A good rule of thumb is that once the indicator goes below 50%, or if you’re experiencing frequent random disconnections, it is a good idea to swap out with a fresh set of full batteries. Because being without a keyboard or mouse is never fun, it’s best to have a second set of rechargeables ready to go nearby. Invest in good rechargeable batteries and you’ll never be without your wireless accessories for more than a few seconds as they get changed.

2: Change the Batteries

For most connection problems, the problem comes down to the battery life. Swapping out the batteries only takes a second and it’s often the easiest way to regain reliable bluetooth connectivity for keyboards and mice.

Change batteries with rechargeables

If you don’t have a set of good rechargeable batteries yet, they are well worth the investment and they end up paying for themselves within about 3-4 recharges. Buy them once and you’ll basically never have to buy batteries again, click here for a decent set of AA that is under $20, I use the same set on my Apple Wireless Keyboard and they last for months per single charge.

3: Cycle Bluetooth OFF & ON

The simplest way to power cycle Bluetooth is to pull down the menu, select “Turn Bluetooth Off”, then let it sit for a moment to take effect before going back to the same menu and choosing “Turn Bluetooth On”.

Turn bluetooth off and on again

This will cause the keyboard/mouse/device to automatically resync with the Mac.

4: Turn the Device / Keyboard OFF & ON

Simply turning the Bluetooth device off and on again is often enough to kick it back into gear. For an Apple Wireless Keyboard you can power-cycle it by pressing and holding the power button until the little green light turns off, then press again to turn it back on. The device will automatically connect and you should be good to go.

Note: this process happens automatically if you change the devices batteries and it does not need to be repeated in that case.

5: Delete the Device Profile & Re-Add

Open System Preferences, go to Bluetooth, and delete the device profile from the preferences list by selecting it, then clicking the little “-” icon in the bottom. Now re-add by clicking the “+” icon, go through the extremely simple setup process, and re-sync the device. This works in the unusual event the preferences or plist has become corrupted.

6: Check Signal Strength

You can quickly reveal any connected Bluetooth devices signal strength through a hidden strength indicator that is accessible through Bluetooth settings. Open System Preferences > Bluetooth, then hold down the “Option” key to show the indicator. More bars is obviously a stronger connection, and if you only have one or two bars visible here then you either have an issue with signal power (and thus, battery), or general interference from other devices.

7: Check for General Interference

Check for obvious interference from things like microwaves (yes, the kitchen variety) or tons of bluetooth devices next to each other. If you have no obvious interference nearby, go ahead and monitor the connection strength of the Bluetooth device by using the built-in tool described here to determine the signal power, and then make adjustments to the environment and device locations accordingly.

Bluetooth connection monitor

If the signal is extremely weak or there is high interference, that could be an issue with something in the environment blocking effective transmission, like large metal walls, fireplaces, appliances, and with weak signals, it can even be a symptom of bad batteries. Thus, we recommend this last, because for 98% of user cases with Bluetooth connectivity issues, the problem is often resolved simply by swapping in a new battery or two.

What about iOS devices?
The ability to troubleshoot bluetooth devices connected to iOS is more difficult because there are not the same verbose tools to detect things like interference, but because most problems come down to batteries, simply swap them out, and go through the connection process again to resync the device back to iOS. In nearly all cases, the BT device or external keyboard will then work just fine, whether it’s connected to an iPhone or iPad.

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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Tips & Tricks, Troubleshooting

17 Comments

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  1. Jeroen says:

    Too bad Apple has removed or changed the location of the bluetooth RSSI monitor in Mavericks.

  2. John says:

    You can’t “Pull down” a menu without a mouse on a mac duh…Useless answer

    • rly says:

      So connect a USB mouse and pull down the menu with your USB mouse duh…. useless comment.

      • oh common says:

        we all know that it all boils down to the economy i don’t have the money for a usb mouse so therefore i can’t do that
        USELESS COMMENT
        dum dum dum dum du dum dum du dum
        dramatic effect useless

        • Buy a PC says:

          Since you can’t spell come on or dumb you might want to go buy a PC. You are their perfect customer.

          • Shane says:

            well, seeing as the song would be “dum de dum” and not “dumb de dumb” (as in the Dragnet song) I’d say you just made yourself lose face.

            If i ever see you in public, I’ll slap you upside the head with a fresh salmon.

            seeing as this is unlikely, I’ll settle for this…

            asking someone to use a USB mouse, when apple clearly does NOT have these, and haven’t for quite some time, illustrates that you are indeed a PC troll who is on here making mischief and being a general hooligan just out of spite.

            if i see YOU in public, I will slam your pee-pee in a dictionary…

            seeing as this is the internet, and it’s unlikely we will recognize each other… can I ask you to mail me a loaner mouse wit a cord, i’ll do what i need and send it back to you in the enclosed, self-address, stamped box?

  3. Gutenberg says:

    OS X Yosemite has many problems with Bluetooth devices and Wi-Fi, who made this thing?

    • Knut says:

      Bluetooth is an ECMA standard, primarily based on the Ericsson proposal. The standard has a number of “profiles” that defines the set of “objects” that can be passed between the devices. A “keyboard” has a couple of profiles, and a “headset” more. The radio technology is very different to WLAN – but uses the same RF range: 2.4GHz. All BT devices will send a “sense” command and get a response, to verify that the device is still connected – and based on the signal strength of these “beats”, the strength will be adjusted, so it will not waste energy – being close will increase battery life, and move away, and the signal will be raised. Then the carrier band is frequency hopping from DECT (ITU-T). The 2.4GHz band is divided into about 50 “slots” that can be used. When the devices “pair” they sync on the frequency that will after this, change all the time and use all available frequencies. Before transmitting, the sender will listen if the frequency is used, and skip to the next if this is the case. Likewise the receiver will listen at one frequency and if nothing comes here, jump to the next. The “beat” will remain on the baseband. Because of this jumping around, you can have hundreds of BT devices lying around, and all can be used without interference – you can have 50 people in your living room with headsets on, and still play music on your BT speakers (at around 150 it stops).

      WiFi is US and IEEE / Popular Mechanics standard, bear in mind that CDMA is in “RFC” – class in the ITU because the nobody wants to lock it down. This divides the same frequency band into “channels”, and there are norms for emissions – signal strength that is set by the FCC for common good. My WLAN router use two channels for so call 40Mbps capacity – but I never measure more than 4 – but it works, as long as my neighbour stays away from my channel / channels. If you have good neighbours, you can get this working day out and in – it is simple and robust. But within the same room and 14 channels, CDMA does not support more than 2-5 and certainly cannot be used for streaming, you can support in the best case 30 devices in an area of 1000 feet, all adjacent rooms and houses and buildings included. This is good training for peace negotiators. The 5GHz band is used by Microwave ovens and WLAN radiation and will not go through dense material such as glass – but pass paper and wooden walls.
      So, BT is a standard that Apple cannot do a thing about, nor can be blamed for – except if the headset works perfectly on your Android phone and your MacBook has a problem – then Apple has not implemented the full “profile” or is late at servicing the signals needed to keep the sound streaming.

  4. Mirel says:

    the bluetooth has disappear once I updated my system to Yosemite
    Does not appear at System Report – hardware -Bluetooth -No information found.

    It’s crazy! I don’t even know what else to do!

  5. Kate says:

    NONE of these suggestions worked for me, and I have tried most of them several times, including: removing/adding the device (nope), turning the keyboard on and off (nope), changing the batteries (nope).

    The ONLY thing that works is restarting my laptop, ad nauseum.

    I am using a generic brand wireless keyboard, so perhaps some of the options do not work for me (for example, I get no data for battery level or monitor connection). However, the batteries are fresh and I live in a rural area so not sure what other connections could be interfering?

    VERY FRUSTRATING. As a last resort, I have tried putting a piece of tin foil in the battery compartment in case loose batteries is the culprit – a tip I found from another forum. I doubt it will work but who knows?

    I just wish somebody knew what the @#$@! problem is.

    • douglee650 says:

      i am posting this here in the hope that some other souls will benefit FROM AN ACTUAL SOLUTION

      i too was losing hope after 3 years of my bluetooth wacom tablet constantly disconnecting and requiring a restart.

      HERE IS THE ANSWER:

      the wifi on your mac is interfering with the bluetooth. what you do is turn off wifi, then try reconnecting with the bluetooth device. sometimes you have to turn wifi back on before it will pair. but it always works, no restart required.

      • profmom says:

        This worked for me. I turned the wifi off and had to turn it back on before the bluetooth would pair, which is confusing… but it wouldn’t work with the wifi just turned off.

  6. Linnea says:

    The REAL way to fix when your Bluetooth setting randomly switchs off, pluse, your computer won’t recognize your wired keyboard & mouse, essentially locking you out of your computer, is to zap the PRAM. I know, supposedly this old fix doesn’t apply these days, but it sets things right for me every time this happens. Plug in your corded keyboard & mouse, use the button on the front of your computer (desktop) to shut your computer down, wait 10 seconds, and turn your computer on while holding down the command+option+P & R buttons all down simultaneously. Don’t let go until you heard the second start-up chime. This has worked for me every time…good luck!

  7. Jason says:

    I found disabling DEP (Data Execution Prevention), with bcdedit /set nx alwaysoff, solved my Bluetooth related errors for NIC losing DNS connection.

  8. Aart says:

    Hi
    The sollution is to stop and start
    AirDrop sharing in the Finder.
    This is all.
    Really!
    Aart

  9. monty says:

    I followed the advice of a couple of people:
    (1) delete devices and reinstall them
    (2) keep some distance between keyboard and trackpad/mouse to avoid signal conflict
    (3) check/replace/recharge batteries regularly.

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