Illustration for article titled Why Automakers Still Cant Get Bluetooth To Work

J.D. Power is out with its latest Vehicle Dependability study, and while unbearable voice-recognition systems continue to be an issue, Bluetooth problems are now at the top of the list.


The annual report catalogs the number of issues original owners of cars built in 2012 experienced over a year, and both voice-recognition and Bluetooth connectivity were the most frequently cited problems, not just in the first few months, but over the entire year.


While issues with voice commands aren't a surprise, Bluetooth problems have ascended to number one in consumer complaints.

According to J.D. Power's data:

Among owners who experienced a Bluetooth pairing/connectivity problem, 55 percent say that their vehicle would not recognize their phone, and 31 percent say the phone would not automatically connect when entering their vehicle.


It's a problem automakers have been battling for years, and it won't get better anytime soon.

One obstacle to pairing and maintaining a Bluetooth connection is the phone's hardware. Automakers test dozens, sometimes hundreds, of devices, primarily composed of the most popular models at the time. But that could've been three to six years ago, ages in the consumer electronics world.


Complicating matters is the fact that automakers (and their suppliers) can't test every single phone on the market. It's easy to trial and validate a device from a major manufacturer. Apple puts out one or maybe two devices a year; Samsung puts out a few more. But smaller companies that don't have the sway, the scale, or the cash can't get top-notch Bluetooth radios. And even if they could, the variation in antenna placement from device to device adds another layer of complexity.

But even that pales in comparison to the software problem, with different profiles, updates, and even variations of the same phone on different wireless carriers compounding the issue into oblivion.


With the auto industry and the consumer electronics world moving at two different speeds, there's no resolution on the horizon. That's going to make things even more difficult in the future, as J.D. Power's vice president of U.S. automotive, Renee Stephens, notes: "Owners clearly want the latest technology in their vehicles, and they don't hesitate to express their disapproval when it doesn't work. Their definition of dependability is increasingly influenced by usability."

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