By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Over a half dozen 12-volt suppliers are introducing new Bluetooth-ready head units at International CES that are compatible with cellular phones for hands-free dialing.
Bluetooth could become an important feature, said suppliers, because more phones incorporate it and more U.S. states are passing laws requiring hands-free use of cellphones in the car. In addition, OEM radios will soon offer Bluetooth compatibility, they said.
According to the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG), states including New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Washington and the city of Chicago now require hands-free use of cellular phones in an automobile. California, Oregon and Washington are also considering such laws.
“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.”
In addition, Bluetooth has become a widespread feature in Europe, leading suppliers to predict similar success in the United States.
Bluetooth is now available in 40 models of cellular phones in the United States, and by 2006 it will be offered on most high-end phones, according to suppliers.
Here at CES, brands including Alpine, Jensen, Kenwood, Panasonic and Pioneer are offering Bluetooth-compatible 2006 head units that require adapter kits. The kits may include a remote microphone and send/end button. When a call comes in, the car radio will mute and then the caller presses a button to switch to hands-free voice operation. Often, caller ID information appears on the radio screen.
Suppliers are also working on stereo Bluetooth adapters that will allow an MP3 player or cellular phone with music capability to play through the car stereo.
Scosche already offers a stereo Bluetooth adapter for most MP3 players and a separate kit for iPods. Also available are kits to wirelessly connect these to a car stereo head unit or home audio system.
Scosche said it expects to sell 50,000 to 100,000 stereo Bluetooth adapters by next fall, after a year on the market, according to Kas Alves, sales and marketing VP.
Alves argues that the Bluetooth adapters have the capability to drive up the number of SKUs per sale. Some consumers are purchasing adapters for both the home and car or for more than one car, he said.
Scosche and others claim that Bluetooth stereo offers sound quality that is virtually the same as a direct hardwired connection and is better than an FM transmitter. Scosche OEM project manager Jack Dibiasio said the dynamic range for an FM transmitter is about 45 dB to 50 dB, up to about 15KHz, while Bluetooth offers 80dB, up to 20kHz.
It is possible, said Alpine marketing VP Steve Witt, that Bluetooth “could easily replace the FM transmitter” once costs come down.
Use of Bluetooth (mono or stereo) in all consumer electronics products is increasing rapidly. The Bluetooth SIG recently announced that shipments of Bluetooth devices doubled between May and November 2005, reaching 9.5 million devices shipped per week worldwide, up from 4.75 million per week in May, according to IMS Research. The growth is “exceeding even the most optimistic analyst projections,” said a Bluetooth group spokesman.
Eventually, said executive director of the Bluetooth SIG Michael Foley, people will expect stereo Bluetooth wireless connections wherever they go. If you carry a cellphone with built-in music, you will want it to work wirelessly with your “home stereo, car stereo and PC or just with dedicated speakers wherever you happen to be,” Foley said. He speculates that the Apple iPod will soon incorporate Bluetooth capability, although Apple said it would not comment on future products.
Video Bluetooth connectivity may also be on the horizon as the Bluetooth SIG has announced its intention to work on an ultrawideband Bluetooth specification that would allow the streaming of video including a DVD movie or HDTV over Bluetooth. “But that's a couple of years out,” Foley said.
One of the early adopters of Bluetooth (mono) in the 12-volt market is K40, which began shipping several months ago with the CALIBRE remotely installed radar detection system. It relies on Bluetooth for connections to the front and rear detectors, except power and ground. K40 notes that some dealers have been skeptical about the product's reliability. “We have our own secure network. You can't jam or hijack our system. Once it establishes a link, it's not broken,” said a spokesman, adding, “There are still a lot of doubts that Bluetooth itself is a viable technology. But once they see it's just rock solid stable, they are sold,” he said.
This TWICE webinar, hosted by senior editor Alan Wolf, will take a look at what may be the hottest CE products at retail that will be sold during the all-important fourth quarter. Top technologies, market strategies and industry trends will be discussed with industry analysts and executives.