2011 Lincoln MKXEnlarge Photo
Bluetooth streaming is a passing fad, and we're here to tell you why.
The solution to in-car audio seems brilliant, at first. Your Bluetooth-equipped car is already connecting your device for phone calls. Why can't it also connect the music player so you don't have to fiddle with a jumble of wires and inconveniently placed USB ports?
It turns out, there are plenty of good reasons to stick with USB connections when you're hooking up an iPhone or God forbid, some Droid piece of junk, to your car.
A cable connection will always be superior, admits Ford's director of electronics engineering Dave Buczkowski, but Ford is leading Bluetooth streaming's integration because it's a good choice for some drivers, and it fits in with their growing in-car technology portfolio.
But here's why we think BT streaming doesn't work any better than a USB cable--and why it's often much worse:
MyLincoln Touch - 2011 Lincoln MKXEnlarge Photo
2) Functions go missing. As automakers update the coding-decoding software on their audio systems to accommodate Bluetooth streaming, they're re-incorporating some of the controls you might already find on your steering wheel or at least, on the audio faceplate. If you're streaming via Bluetooth now--Ford's systems are an exception--you still need to touch the device to advance tracks and access other features. But even on Ford's newest vehicles, the MyTouch and SYNC systems can't use voice commands to instruct a Bluetooth-streaming devices.
Need an example? Audiobooks don't have persistent bookmarks with BT streaming, so you'll either listen to all of it in one drive, or have to shuffle through to get back to where you were.
3) Perfect integration is always a firmware update away. To get past the tech hurdle, engineers have to write software updates. If you buy a brand-new vehicle today with Bluetooth streaming and your device doesn't yet work--be prepared to wait until both the automaker and the music-device maker get their acts together.
4) Charging wirelessly is a fuel-cell-powered unicorn. If you're streaming audio over Bluetooth, you're consuming more of your device's battery more quickly. It reduces talk time. At some point, you're going to need to plug in for more juice--so why not just use the cable? That utopia you're dreaming of, the one where devices recharge over the air too, is just that. A dream.
5) The Bluetooth-cable battle always favors wires. If your phone and audio system do both, you can plug in via USB to charge, and channel music over Bluetooth. But then there's a battle between systems. Ford's MyTouch setup lets you select one over the other. On most systems, it's a setting you may have to access multiple times over the course of the day, as you wander in and out of Bluetooth range, and as the music device wants to default to good old USB operation.
You can fuss with Bluetooth streaming all you want, but it's always a step behind a hard-wired connection. Hey, you can give up playlists and skipping tracks if you want--we'll take all the functions of USB for the first-world problem of carrying an extra cable any day.