OEM Integrators Set Sights On Cellphones

By Amy Gilroy On Mar 13 2006 - 8:00am

OEM integrators, fresh from churning out adapters for iPods and MP3 players, are getting ready for a new class of music-capable portables — cellular phones.

Just when dealers were adjusting displays for the iPod, here comes a new product requiring integration. At present, about a half-dozen cellular phones have the capability to download music on the fly. If you are walking down the street and hear a song you like, you can download it on the spot.

Eighty percent of cellular phones are expected to offer some form of music capability by 2009, according to the Yankee Group in Boston. “It's a foregone conclusion that music capability will be more or less a feature that is de facto in mainstream handsets,” said senior analyst John Jackson.

Both Peripheral and Blitz Safe say they are working on products that will enable a car stereo head unit to control a music-enabled phone and play music through the car's sound system.

Blitz Safe said the first of these adapters could be available by summer at a target suggested retail price of $90. The company may offer both hardwired and Bluetooth versions of adapters that will be available for most cars and for after-market radios from Alpine, Kenwood, Pioneer and Sony. The company is also working on dual adapters that can switch between a music-enabled cellphone and an MP3 player.

Alpine said in January at International CES that it expects to offer an adapter that uses Bluetooth to stream music wirelessly from a Motorola iRadio cellular phone to a head unit in the second quarter.

Peripheral said it also plans to use stereo Bluetooth in the future to wirelessly stream audio from a music-enabled cellular phone or from an iPod or MP3 player.

Scosche, which has been selling stereo Bluetooth adapters since late last year, said its adapters will work with any music-enabled cellphone that has a headphone jack.

It should be noted that the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) is currently working on a standard that will allow many portable devices to communicate with a car (or home) docking cradle. The CEA hopes to adopt a standard later this year, which may include music-enabled cellular phones, portable media players, iPods and MP3 players.

For the present, OEM integrators are focusing on selling adapters for a host of other technologies, including iPod and MP3 integration devices, and MOST, Bluetooth, CAN bus and GM LAN adapters.

OEM integrators had a very busy 2005 as iPod car adapters quickly became a high-demand item from a relatively obscure product in 2004. This year should see even greater iPod adapter demand, said suppliers.

Blitz Safe said iPod integration quickly ramped up to about 70 percent of its business last year vs. 30 percent in 2004. iPod integration is expected to grow again in 2006, said president/CEO Ira Marlowe.

Peripheral said its iPod and MP3 kits last year increased to approximately 35 percent to 40 percent of its business and are also growing.

Some of the new products now shipping from OEM integrators include new Chrysler and Ford interfaces for the CAN bus system, Bluetooth adapters and iPod and MP3 devices.

Pacific Accessory Corp.(PAC) is focusing on a line of new Chrysler CAN bus interfaces. The new PAC devices allow auxiliary audio inputs to the radios and allow radio replacement with retention of steering wheel controls. Adapters are now available for all new Chrysler models, and they are expected to ship in March at suggested retail prices ranging from $99 to $149.

PAC also introduced its first iPod adapter line for after-market car radios. It allows Kenwood, Alpine, Pioneer and Sony radios to control and charge an iPod and display text information. The iPAC series is shipping now at approximately $120.

In the future, the company is looking to offer new GM LAN auxiliary audio input and radio replacement kits for the 2007 model year.

From Peripheral are new MP3, Bluetooth, iPod and MOST adapters. These include an MP32Car adapter that allows PlaysForSure MP3 players (from brands such as iRiver) to work with Ford and General Motors car radios. The radios can control the devices and display song and artist information. A version for Chrysler is coming. The MP32Car ships this quarter at $199.95 suggested retail. New MOST adapters will be available for Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Porsche vehicles by the second quarter. Also new are iPod2Car adapters for the iPod nano and video-capable iPod, as well as new CAN bus interfaces for DaimlerChrysler and Ford vehicles.

SoundGate is distributing a Bluetooth hands-free car kit for cellular phones by mr. Handsfree called The Genius that began shipping last month at a suggested retail price of $149.95.

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