Bang & Olufsen BluetoothEnlarge Photo
Looking ahead, Bluetooth is going to remain the preferred (and only) interface for in-car calling, though it's not the solution for more advanced features. The Bluetooth standard dates back about 15 years and was originally intended as a wireless standard for computer peripherals, and even though it's been upgraded, it's just too slow to pass data at normal high-speed Internet rates between handsets or other devices and vehicles.
"Straight up, Bluetooth won't handle a high-bandwidth Internet transfer," said Boyadjis. "If we really want streaming video, that's not going to happen at Bluetooth speeds now," and there's not much room for upgrading as the proposed Bluetooth 3.0 standard still wouldn't allow much more practical speed, he said. For anything else device makers might need to adopt a version of 802.11, which is used for household wireless routers and even some peripherals now. .
Why some phones won't even pair
Sometimes the incompatibility goes beyond simply not being able to access some features—like the phonebook, or text messaging—and you can't even connect phone and vehicle in the first place. Boyadjis says that there are two main reasons for pairing complications: 1) a poor interface or poor in-vehicle design (he pointed to the clunky, obstinate Bluetooth interface of a particular German luxury maker, even though it uses up-to-date Bluetooth innards); or 2) incompatibility in and of itself, which is often an issue with older vehicle designs—even some that remain on sale. In the latter, one of the devices typically gets hung up on the object protocol, looking for pieces of information on the phone, and won't simply give up and revert to the most basic version for calling.
Boyadjis recommends: "First ask, does your handset have the same features as the vehicle system? If you don't have a matching set of profiles, something's going to fail."
Start by consulting the automaker’s Web site for more information, but we still advise to bring your phone along on the test drive, have the salesperson show you how to pair it and how to call or text, and make sure it works to your satisfaction. These hiccups aren’t going away any time soon, but there's hope that we'll be a little less frustrated a year or two from now.
That said, a new handset is small change if you really like the vehicle.