Can you sync your smartphone with your car?

Syncing your phone with your car may allow you to be hands free. See more car safety pictures.
Syncing your phone with your car may allow you to be hands free. See more car safety pictures.
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Americans have long been fascinated with the idea of human-car interaction. Such relationships are at the heart of many film and TV productions, from the 1968 movie "The Love Bug" to the 1980s TV series "Knight Rider." While the close bonds felt between Dean Jones and his car Herbie, and David Hasselhoff and his car KITT, remain quite fictional, modern technology has made the relationship between the automobile and its driver increasingly interactive. Today, many cars are equipped to sync, or communicate wirelessly, with a smartphone, allowing the driver to make phone calls, send text messages, play music, and navigate to a destination using voice commands.

These hands-free tasks are possible thanks to advancements in vehicle telematics, or the integration of communication and information technologies for use in automobiles. Typically, vehicle telematics systems incorporate cell phone and Global Positioning System (GPS) units with an on-board computer to perform a wide variety of tasks. In 1996, OnStar became the first company to install such technology in cars. The service offered hands-free calling and turn-by-turn direction assistance, as well as access to a call center staff that could unlock the car if a customer was locked out and alerted the police if the car was stolen or its airbags were deployed. OnStar now comes standard on many cars, but it relies on a built-in cell phone system separate from the driver's handheld unit.


In 2002, BMW became the first company to offer cars that could connect to personal cell phones using Bluetooth wireless technology. Bluetooth -- an industry standard for wireless communication between two or more devices -- soon became a common feature on other vehicles. Chrysler became the first North American car company to offer Bluetooth connectivity after it introduced the system on its 2004 Pacifica line. Initially, this option mainly supported hands-free calling, but as the technology improved, so did the functionality. Today's Bluetooth-enabled cars are capable of a wide variety of functions, from streaming online music to performing vehicle diagnostics.

Ready to learn more about connecting your smartphone to your car? Sync up and click over to the next page.


Benefits of Syncing Your Smartphone to Your Car

There are a few things to consider before you can connect your smartphone to your car. First, make sure your handset has Bluetooth capability. Then, ensure that the systems you're considering are compatible with your particular phone. They're generally sold in two main ways: as a factory-installed option or an aftermarket add-on.

Aftermarket add-ons are relatively inexpensive and compatible with almost any car, but they typically lack the functionality of a factory-installed system. One way to install Bluetooth connectivity into your car is by purchasing a new stereo or a unit that can be hardwired into your current stereo. These systems, which play calls through your car's speakers, are manufactured by companies like Alpine, Parrot and Motorola. They automatically upload your contacts to support audible caller ID and voice-activated calling. They can also play music wirelessly from your phone, which, like the music from your car stereo, is automatically muted when you have an incoming call. A cheaper alternative is to buy a unit that doesn't require any special wiring. These units offer similar features to their hardwired counterparts, but the sound is played through a visor or windshield-mounted speaker. They lack the ability to mute your car stereo when you receive a phone call.


Factory-installed systems are becoming more common, and not just in luxury vehicles. A popular example is Ford's SYNC, launched in fall 2007 in collaboration with software designer Microsoft. Like the after-market units, SYNC offers music playback and voice-activated calling. In addition, users get audible text message readback and voice navigation, as well the ability to provide vehicle diagnostics and call 911 when the airbags deploy. Newer models can also link with apps like Pandora, which streams music wirelessly. Such systems are now available through nearly every major car company, including Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, BMW, Audi, Volvo, Volkswagon, Nissan, Chrysler and GM.

The first time you use your phone in the car, you must pair the devices to ensure that they recognize each other in the future. This involves a brief initial setup, but when you're done, your phone will automatically connect each time you get in the car. After a few hands-free commands, you'll never want to handle your phone while driving again.


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More Great Links

  • BMW. "Bluetooth-FAQ." 2011. (Sept. 27, 2011)
  • Chrysler. "Fact Sheet: UConnect." 2011. (Sept. 27, 2011);jsessionid=10EDD4832BD7083033B529DA79FD63BD?&id=1901&mid=274
  • Ferency-Viars, Robert. "How Do I Get Bluetooth in My Car?" Crutchfield. March 25, 2011. (Sept. 27, 2011)
  • Ford. "Fact Sheet: Ford SYNC® Voice-Controlled Communications & Connectivity System." 2011. (Sept. 27, 2011)
  • Governors Highway Safety Association. "Cell Phone and Texting Laws." September 2011. (Sept. 27, 2011)
  • Hiss, Eric. "Five Aftermarket Bluetooth Alternatives for Your Ride." Aug. 18, 2010. (Sept. 30, 2011)
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  • Lenfle, Sylvain and Christophe Midler. "Innovation in Automotive Telematics Services: Characteristics of the Field and Management Principles." 9th International Product Development Management Conference, Sophia Antipolis, France. May 27-28, 2002. (September 27, 2011)
  • Madden, Mary and Lee Rainie. "Adults and Cell Phone Distractions." Pew Internet & American Life Project. June 18, 2010. (Sept. 28, 2011)
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  • Quain, John R. "Ford Joins the App Generation." The New York Times. April 23, 2010. (Sept. 27, 2011)