By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Bluetooth has become a must-have feature in the step-up car stereo aftermarket products as more states enact hands-free calling laws and consumers become aware of the feature, said suppliers.
In 2009, vendors are embedding Bluetooth in more car radios, where last year it was offered chiefly as an add-on option.
Kenwood's new line has built-in Bluetooth in seven models compared with two in 2008.
In addition, full-line suppliers are starting to compete with kit makers by offering universal stand-alone Bluetooth kits under their own brands. These include Alpine and Audiovox.
Bluetooth kits are selling at a healthy clip, with shipments last year through October reaching 788,460 units, or $48.3 million, according to the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA). Similar numbers for 2007 were not tracked by CEA for comparison.
JVC is showing a unique Bluetooth solution using dual USB jacks at International CES.
And more companies are using Parrot Bluetooth chipsets in their products for improved quality.
Even solar-powered Bluetooth kits are on display here from Nextar.
JVC is offering Bluetooth as a built-in feature to much of its 2009 line, but in two CD receivers, the KD-R900 and KD-R800, Bluetooth is included as a USB dongle. The units each have two USB slots so if the user doesn't want Bluetooth, he can remove the dongle and free up both USB slots to insert a flash drive along with an iPod, for example.
Audiovox is introducing its first retail Bluetooth car kits, including the JC100 portable kit that is Works with iPhone and Made for iPod approved. It uses an FM modulator and can charge an iPod and iPhone, stream music from the devices and allow the iPhone to operate in phone mode via Bluetooth. It will ship in January at a suggested retail of $129.
Alpine is showing its first standalone Bluetooth hands-free car kit at $99.95 to ship in April with upgradeable software to accommodate new phones.
Alpine is also offering a new Bluetooth KCE-400BT optional module for its head units that uses a Parrot chipset for more reliable performance, said the company. It offers audio streaming and hands-free calling at a suggested retail of $129. It will ship in January.
Pioneer and Kenwood are also using Parrot Bluetooth on top-end head units.
Sony's 2009 products include a CD receiver with new Bluetooth automatic phonebook operation and improved audio streaming.
Sony 's MEX-BT5700UI can automatically recognize and decode a phonebook in a Bluetooth phone, so users don't have to enter the names manually. Another new feature is that while streaming Bluetooth music to the radio, all song tags (artist, album, song and genre) are shown on the display .
The unit also has USB iPod control and can control songs on a USB device. It is satellite radio and HD Radio ready and has a front-panel auxiliary input. It will ship in June at a suggested retail of $299.
Nextar is offering two solar-powered Bluetooth kits at CES. The NXBT-001 Bluetooth speaker sits in a windshield mount and can be charged either through solar power or from the lighter or a USB port for 10 days of standby time and 10 hours of talktime on a single charge. A step-up solar-powered model, the NXBT-002 displays caller ID names on an LCD screen. It has six days of standby time and six hours of talktime. Both will ship in the first quarter at prices to be announced.
Scosche is offering two BlueFusion kits that add hands-free calling to a factory car radio and also allow streaming music from a cellphone through the car's existing radio. New kits are the BFHA for Honda radios and the BFCL2 for GM Class 2 vehicles. The kits retail for $349.
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