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Suppliers are beginning to explore the use of Bluetooth to ease integration of aftermarket components with existing in-car stereo systems. Bluetooth could also integrate products such as the Apple iPod into the car's current A/V system, said industry members.
Bluetooth delivers audio and text up to 30 feet and allows components to control each other, so a head unit might control an iPod if both were Bluetooth ready. Bluetooth is also gaining in popularity.
According to the Bluetooth special interest group (SIG), 13 percent of cellular phones in the United States now offer Bluetooth, expected to increase to 65 percent by 2008. Currently 17 vehicle makes and approximately 30 vehicle models offer Bluetooth built-into the radio or instrument panel. By 2008, 22 million vehicles will have factory-installed Bluetooth, according to ABI Research, Oyster Bay, N.Y., said the Bluetooth SIG.
Currently, the applications for Bluetooth are mono audio only. Bluetooth in the vehicle is used mainly for converting the car's stereo system into a speakerphone for a cellular phone, allowing the radio to control the cellphone.
But products are under development to offer Bluetooth stereo capability.
Scosche Industries announced it is developing a stereo Bluetooth interface for the iPod that would connect to the headphone jack of the unit and allow it to play through a car head unit. The head unit would connect to a Bluetooth receiver through the auxiliary input, Scosche said. The company is hoping for a spring/summer release.
Dr. Michael Foley, executive director for the Bluetooth SIG, said companies are now working on adapters that plug in the auxiliary input of the car radio to convert the radio to Bluetooth. Mono versions of these adapters are already available.
“There's been a lot of programs in the last year for using Bluetooth as more than just a mono audio signal. There are now chips and processors that do a much better job,” said AAMP of America's VP/COO Ron Freeman.
He noted, however, that it is not yet clear if the new Bluetooth equipment is capable of transmitting high-quality stereo. Freeman said his company is running tests at the moment to determine “how viable it is. Is it good for iPod connectivity? We don't want any degradation in audio quality.”
When asked if Bluetooth might be used to connect an amplifier to an existing car audio system in the future, Freeman said, “It's yet to be seen … As it stands right now, you are not getting the best possible sound quality. It has some drawbacks. In the last six months we've had some very big leaps, but it's not there yet.”
Foley said future Bluetooth applications could include Internet capability. “A cellphone can be a data access point, and you can have services based on Web searches to find stores, or ATMs in the area,” he said. The information could appear on a display in the car.
Other suppliers say they are examining the possibilities of Bluetooth in the car, including Alpine, BlitzSafe, Delphi and Kenwood. Many say they are also examining other wireless technologies such as Wi-Fi, as well.
Noted Kenwood's car electronics VP Keith Lehmann, “We are in development on wireless products. The dealers are asking for it. They want an integration solution. They are basically acting as integrators of hardware into the customer's vehicles. We're looking at Bluetooth.”
Alpine's product marketing manager Jeff Fay said, “Wireless is something we're looking into, whether it's Bluetooth or another technology. It's going to make the car very different from what it is today. I know we're studying the viability of Bluetooth in a mobile environment, trying to determine its robustness and see if it's suitable for our applications.”
BlitzSafe said it is already planning to add Bluetooth capability to some of its integration kits, including the SkyLink kit for the Delphi XM SkyFi and its upcoming iPod kit called the mLink.
Jensen showed one of the first Bluetooth-ready CD receivers at International CES in Las Vegas last month. The model MP8610BT can synchronize with a cellphone to allow the user's phonebook to appear as text on the radio. The radio can then control dialing and speed dialing and can mute when a call is placed. The Bluetooth-ready MP8610BT has a 10 foot range for communicating with a cellphone wirelessly. It also features MP3 and WMA and will ship in May at a suggested price of $279.
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