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THOUGHT: Bluetooth Car Kits and Smartphones - Still somewhat Useful but too often Painful
Posted by Arne Hess - on Monday, 07.06.10 - 18:10:05 CET under 09 - Thoughts - Viewed 21439x
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If you are a long time follower of the::unwired, you know that I'm a big fan of Bluetooth and its possibilities; and if you follow me on Twitter, you also know that I recently purchased a new car. For sure I ordered my car with an inbuilt Bluetooth car kit and since I'm changing my mobile phones too often, and too often I'm using mobile phones which aren't supporting the Remote SIM Access Profile (rSAP), I've decided to go with the basic Hands-Free Profile (HFP) Bluetooth system only. Additionally, the car is also equipped with an inbuilt GPS navigation system (Audi MMI plus) and I somewhat expected that the Bluetooth car kit and the GPS navigation works together, which they do - theoretically.

The whole MMS plus system is a combination of the general car setup, radio and media control and in this case most importantly the phone control, navigation control and address book, which can be even access and controlled by voice. For instance, I can simply say "radio" and the radio turns on, or I can call a contact from the address book by saying "call xyz home". Furthermore it's possible to start the routing by saying "navigation" and entering the destination (city, street and street number) by voice as well, or I simply say "navigate to xyz home". All together it's pretty handy and you don't have to watch the large 7" LCD to control your car.
However, to call a contact or to navigate to a contact's address, the MMI has to know the contact name, the phone numbers and the address because the car's voice control is used instead of the mobile phone's voice control capabilities.

Doesn't matter with which Bluetooth car kit the car comes, Audi's MMI plus includes an address book which is able to store contact names, phone numbers as well as addresses.

These details are available from the phone part, where contact phone number can be dialed from as well as the name of a caller is displayed.

But the contacts addresses (home and business) can also be accessed from the navigation part of the MMI which makes it easier to enter an address, especially if you frequently want to navigate to contact's home or business addresses.

That's the theory but the reality is totally different. Different from OS to OS, from OS version to OS version as well as from manufacturer to manufacture. During the past days, I've tested quite a lot of different smartphones with Windows Mobile, Android and webOS and the results are sometimes terrifying!

First the good news: All smartphones connect with the Bluetooth car kit and support the Hands-Free Profile which means I hadn't had to touch a single phone if I wanted to accept an incoming call. However, dialing a stored contact number, or reading through the list of missed, made and received calls is something totally different. While some smartphones weren't sharing a single contact with the MMI, others shared their contacts but listed every single contact's phone number as a new contact while the third group of mobile phones were accessed correctly, with all phone numbers under a single contact's name entry, but either with or without the contact's addresses.

That's quite a frustrating user experience, as an end user you cannot be sure if your brand new mobile phone will work or not and as always it's hard to identify who to blame for the bad user experience? The handset manufacturer? The Bluetooth stack provider? The OS? The OS version? The car kit manufacturer? The car maker? Well, it seems to be a combination between the handset manufacturer, the Bluetooth stack provider and the OS.

Let us take a couple of smartphone combinations for this test:

HTC's premium Android 2.1 smartphones, the HTC Desire and HTC Legend, are not sharing any contacts and the address book stays empty:

On the other hand, the Windows Mobile 6.5 powered HTC HD2 is sharing all stored contacts with the Bluetooth car kit with one entry per contact's name with all phone number under the contact's name and even transmits the home and work address to the car interface:

While the webOS based Palm Pre syncs all contacts with car kit, it creates one entry per contact phone number but excludes addresses:

The Palm Pixi Plus, running the same webOS version as the Pre, creates one entry per contact name and lists all phone numbers under each contact. However, it also ignores addresses:

Like the Palm Pre, the Android 2.1-powered Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 is also sharing the contacts with car kit but creates one entry per phone number and ignoring addresses:

Similar to this, the Android 2.1-powered Motorola Milestone is also creating one entry per contact phone number but adding /H, /W, /M or /F to each contact name, representing home, work, mobile and fax:

That's an alarmingly result! Seven phones, three operating systems, five results and only one phone, the HTC HD2, works as expected, followed by the Palm Pixi Plus, which is still usable, and three, more or less, unusable experiences, not to mention the two completely failed synchronizations which makes it unable to use voice dialing at all!
While the HTC HD2 and Palm Pixi Plus are perfectly useable with the system's voice dialing system, the Palm Pre, Motorola Milestone and Sony Ericsson are hard to use by voice and completely unusable with the navigation wheel.

Also interesting is how the devices transfer their contacts to the car's address book. While the HTC HD2 and Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 are just doing the address book sync, the Palm Pre, Palm Pixi and Motorola Milestone are asking if access should be granted. The HTC Legend and HTC Desire are also asking but don't share anything.

Final Conclusion

Most car manufactures are offering Bluetooth systems for their cars today and it absolutely makes sense to order a Bluetooth car kit with a new car. In most cases it's nicely integrated into the whole car system, allowing hassle-free phone calls while driving. And since Bluetooth is a standard feature of all smartphones today, it makes even more sense. If rSAP makes sense or not depends a little bit if the mobile phone supports the rSAP profile. For sure it's the better alternative, especially because rSAP systems are using the car's antenna however, rSAP is still not widely supported by mobile phones and it's more expensive since it includes its own GSM/UMTS receiver since the devices radio isn't used at all.

Nevertheless, it's quite frustrating if today's mobile phones pair fine with Bluetooth car kits but reducing the functionality to voice only, even if phonebook sync is (theoretically) supported as well. It's frustrating if the phone numbers are synchronized wrong, with one entry per phone number which makes the car's phonebook hard to use (imagine you have 500 contacts with two phone numbers which means you have 1000 lines to scroll through), but it's even more frustrating if not a single contact is synchronized at all because in this case you even don't see a caller's name but the phone number only.
Convenient is something totally different and we have to keep in mind that a Bluetooth car kit isn't just a pricy accessory but it can be seen as a safety accessory since it should reduce distraction, allowing the driver to concentrate on the traffic!

I would definitely expect from the mobile phone industry, OS and handset makers, that it would work closer with the car industry (and vice versa), to make sure all components work as expected - and even more important - as specified. What are standards are good for, if everybody is interpreting them the way the company like? For instance, a common standard was one reason that GSM became such a world wide success and the industry is better helping Bluetooth the same way.

Cheers ~ Arne


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