Bluetooth's Dirty Little Secret

Implementing the short-range wireless technology Bluetooth in cars seems like a no-brainer.

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Implementing the short-range wireless technology Bluetooth in cars seems like a no-brainer. Practically everyone who owns a cell phone would like a wireless, hands-free connection in their cars and would be willing to pay for the function. So where are all of the Bluetooth-enabled vehicles? It turns out there is a good reason why only a handful of models have taken the plunge: lack of universal interoperability. The fine print below the headline Bluetooth announcements for vehicles like the Acura TL or Chrysler Pacifica (both of which use systems developed by Johnson Controls) is that only a select few phones can be used if you want to access the function. And even those don't work across vehicles. How did this situation come to pass? It seems that the Bluetooth special interest group (SIG) includes major cell phone manufacturers like Nokia, Motorola and Sony Ericsson. Those companies make hundreds of millions of phones a year, and are not impressed by auto industry volumes, so meeting auto's special requests like universal interoperability is not a high priority. For their part, automakers know that customers will blame them, not the phone manufacturers, if something goes wrong, so they want to make sure that Bluetooth standards are robust before implementing them across their line-ups. Until now there has been a stalemate, but help is on the way. Scott McCormick, vice-president at AMI-C (Automotive Multimedia Interface Collaboration), says his organization has sent the Bluetooth SIG all of the standard enhancements automakers are requesting and that they are quietly being adopted. So when will you be able to use any Bluetooth phone in any Bluetooth-enabled car? "I'm confident that this can be done within two years," comments McCormick. Until then, read the fine print.