By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Bluetooth is expected to become a widespread feature in car stereo head units for 2006, as more Bluetooth-capable cellular phones reach the market and as more states mandate hands-free use of those phones in the car.
Companies including Kenwood, Panasonic and Alpine say they will offer Bluetooth in certain 2006 head units to allow them to wirelessly sync with a cellular phone. The head unit can then act as a speaker phone. The new radios will likely include built-in microphones so users can talk and dial from the head unit. Also Caller ID information can appear on the radio screen and users can scroll through their phone book information, also on the radio screen.
“The sooner we do it, the better,” said Kenwood's car electronics VP Keith Lehmann. “We've seen more handheld devices that are Bluetooth enabled, so in order to compete with OEM, we have to embrace the technology.”
Panasonic's mobile electronics director Rob Lopez added, “With more federal, local and state agencies requiring hands-free operation in the car, it's a natural progression that after-market radios provide some form of Bluetooth wireless hands-free operation.”
Both Kenwood and Panasonic said they will offer optional Bluetooth adapters designed to work with certain 2006 head units.
According to the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG), laws have passed in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Washington and Chicago requiring hands-free use of cellular phones in the car. States including Illinois, California, Oregon and Washington are also considering such laws.
Bluetooth is now available in 40 models of cellular phones in the United States and by next year, will be offered on most high end phones, according to Christophe Dissaux, executive VP of Parrot, a Bluetooth accessories supplier that unveiled one of the first CD receivers with Bluetooth capability at SEMA this month. “Bluetooth is going to be an extremely big feature in cars, as it happened in Europe,” he said. He predicts that the United States will continue to pass safety laws requiring hands free use, making the Bluetooth radio a popular choice.
At SEMA, Parrot introduced the Rhythm N' Blue Bluetooth CD receiver. The single-DIN unit has CD-R and CD-RW compatibility and MP3 capability (via a CD). It has a built-in 4x45-watt internal amplifier and is expected to ship in January at a tentative suggested retail of $349.
Dissaux said the product will be available through Fry's Electronics and online retailers. Parrot is also in talks with Circuit City and Best Buy, he said.
This joins a Jensen Bluetooth CD receiver that was shown at International CES last year, and began shipping two months ago. Called the MP8610BT, it has a suggested retail price of $279.99.
But even while the first CD head units with mono Bluetooth capability are coming to market, suppliers are experimenting with stereo versions, capable of delivering quality audio signals that can interface iPods and other MP3 players with the car radio.
“Scosche recently shipped two adapters that covert an iPod or MP3 player to Bluetooth and allow it to communicate with a head unit.”
Companies including Parrot and Blitz Safe say they are working on other stereo Bluetooth devices. In the future, it is possible a cellular phone equipped with MP3 songs and a satellite radio tuner could wirelessly link to a car radio so that the user's MP3 files and satellite radio service would play through the car radio, they said.
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