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Smartphone users struggle connecting to in-car infotainment systems

Automakers are scrambling to create cars with modular systems to allow easy upgrades

October 22, 2013 03:24 PM ET

Computerworld - As Toyota owners know, using Bluetooth to pair an iPhone to the in-car Entune infotainment system to use its bundled Internet apps doesn't work.

There's been abundant user complaints about Toyota's fussy Infotainment system in the blogosphere. Possible workarounds suggested by blog commentators include setting up the iPhone as a WiFi hot spot to wirelessly connect to the Entune system.

Toyota recommends that drivers simply plug their iOS device into the car's USB port.

According to market research firm IHS Automotive, Toyota sold 700,000 cars with Entune systems this year and is expected to sell about 1.1 million more in 2014.

Mark Boyadjis, a senior analyst for infotainment systems at IHS Automotive, has tested Toyota's Entune system and describes it as "inconsistent" at best.

"You'd think it would be simple. It's all in one app. You download it and voila, you're ready to go," he said. "But the app still needs to interface with the [infotainment] head unit, and that doesn't always work well depending on which version of iOS, Android or which [hardware] device you have. You may experience a quick connection, or not."

In most cases, Boyadjis said, iPhone users have to connect to Entune with a USB cable to use the bundle of Toyota Internet apps, which include Bing, iHeartRadio, MovieTickets.com, OpenTable, Pandora and other data services such as local fuel prices, traffic and weather information.

Android users can connect wirelessly via Bluetooth through a DUN, or Dial-up Networking, profile. The iPhone can also use the DUN profile, though iOS version 7 has seen some problems through restrictions, Boyadjis said.

"Fortunately, Toyota has a SOTA (Software Over The Air) update protocol that will allow users to update their Entune software, once the problem is resolved," he said. "This is clearly is a key issue they need to resolve quickly."

Fix is on the way

The next generation of Entune systems, to be seen first in the new Toyota Rav4 that's slated to be rolled out in November, will let iPhones use Bluetooth to access the Internet apps, said Ken Parkman, national multimedia operations manager at Toyota.

"You'll no longer need a USB cable. You just have to download the app on a smartphone, Bluetooth pair the phone and open the Entune app on the phone and you're good to go," Parkman said.

The updated Entune system will be added to Toyota's Camry line in December, Highlanders in January and to the rest of the model lineup over the course of the next year, Parkman said.

"By the time the Highlander has it, about 60% of our volume will have adopted it," he said.



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