Bluetooth’s domination of the car – Is it still coming?

Back when I started looking at Bluetooth in-car applications, Bluetooth seemed the best thing since sliced bread.

06/28/2012


I’ve been the author of market research reports on “Bluetooth in Automotive Applications” and “The Wireless Car” for many years now. Back when I started looking at Bluetooth in-car applications, Bluetooth seemed the best thing since sliced bread. Anyone that was anyone wore a Bluetooth headset; “toothing” was all the rage; and I, like many others, thought that Bluetooth would eventually rule the world.  

Fast forward 5 years and, yes, the uptake of Bluetooth in the car has been pretty impressive. Hands-free calling has clearly been the most successful application. Uptake has reached 100% in some models and is offered as an optional extra in the vast majority of cars.  And I must admit when I brought my new car and it included Bluetooth, it was like Christmas had come early.   

One could also argue that A2DP has also been fairly successful.  But unfortunately, to my knowledge, not many drivers use it or even know its purpose. I can genuinely see the benefits of A2DP for cordless audio streaming and have longed to see its success inside the car and out. But if I hear “Once Apple pushes this feature the market will explode” once more, I’ll scream! Don’t get me wrong; I did believe it but after 5 years it’s wearing a bit thin.

And what about all the other promises we were made? I can remember getting quite excited about the concept of Bluetooth high speed for in-car video distribution and wireless camera modules. But with all the setbacks in the technology and the industry seemingly keeping hush about its demise, I guess it just wasn’t meant to be.   

To be fair the automotive industry is a lot harder to crack than the market for consumer devices. So even though Bluetooth Smart (formerly known as Bluetooth low energy, Bluetooth Ultra-low Power and WiBree) can be used in wireless sensors, tyre pressure monitors, keyless entry and so much more, I’m not getting my hopes up just yet.

The automotive industry is notoriously cautious and no new technology will enter the market until it has been rigorously tested. There are two main issues. First, reliability requirements in vehicles are extremely high; there is no room for error; and the industry sets very high standards. Fundamentally, wires have been doing a good job up to now; so unless a wireless technology can prove like robustness, wires will continue to reign. Second, wireless sensors will still require at least one wire for the purpose of powering the sensor. It could be argued that if one wire is already in place, there may as well be two?

In spite of this, I do live in hope that Bluetooth will rise phoenix-like to its former glory. My plea to the Bluetooth industry is to stop re-branding and innovate. So maybe when I buy my next car (goodness knows when that’ll be) I can relive that euphoria; and who knows I may be able to use Bluetooth for viewing vehicle diagnostics, remote keyless entry, driver wellness and not just hands-free calling!



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