iPhone is picky when it comes to Bluetooth device pairing

Trying to resolve Bluetooth synchronization issues isn't as easy as hoped.

I've come to the conclusion that the iPhone is a very picky Bluetooth dater. It doesn't like its own kind. It doesn't like MacBooks. And it gives mixed signals toward my car. Maybe it's just not into it. I'm not sure; time will tell.

I came to these conclusions playing matchmaker while testing out the iPhone's Bluetooth capabilities with various Bluetooth-enabled devices. First my car, then my friend Max's iPhone and my friend Max's new MacBook.

Date No. 1: My Bimmer

I admit I'm a yuppie type who just has to talk on his cell phone as I commute to work or to dinner (or, most cases to call you to let you know that I'm running late). To that end, the iPhone's supposed Bluetooth compatibility with my car was a draw. In theory, you can drive and talk on the phone hands-free without having to have a Borg-like ear implant that either makes you look like Captain Picard Borg (Locutus) or some other general tool.

OK, who am I kidding here? The iPhone was just cool enough on its own for me to get it; the Bluetooth capabilities were just icing on the cake. Regardless, the iPhone's Bluetooth feature was one I was anticipating, especially with my BMW's hands-free cell phone feature. With my Razr , pairing the car and the Bluetooth-enabled cell phone was no problem. The Razr's reception on the AT&T network in San Francisco with all its hills and valleys, however, was spotty. I had become accustomed to several coverage shadows in Cole Valley and on the 17th Street hill. The Razr was an OK match for my car, but it seemed there should be a better match out there somewhere.

So, on June 29, when BMW announced nearly "full compatibility," I was stoked. My car was stoked. This was to be a match made in heaven, right? Sure enough, syncing the iPhone and my 2006 3-series was easy enough. It was love at first sight. Two shiny devices finding and matching up with the touch of a few buttons. Control of the iPhone's Bluetooth feature is located under "settings" and "general" (not too obviously placed). My car's main radio dashboard asked for a PIN. The iPhone asked for a PIN. After entering both, they were synced. They were, quite literally, on the same wavelength. This relationship held great promise: The AT&T coverage bars shot through the roof--I had never seen that much reception with my Razr. The signal was strong, the connection grave. A heralded new golden era of yapping and carrying on was about to begin!

Then, I actually placed a call using the iPhone through the car's controls and microphone systems, and it all fizzled, sort of. When I called my friend Larry in Iowa, there was silence. Suddenly, Larry boomed out, "Hello?" over the car's speakers. I was surprised; where was the actual ringing? Hrmm, perhaps this was a new stealth ring feature I had to get used to. But the call itself sounded something like: "Hey...Larry? (static)...(pause)...hey, what was that? She said what?...Pregnant...dragon...red monkey on a table?"

Larry: "Hillary...Obama was appearing and said that he was...I was floored." I strained to hear every word that was missing. There were lots of them. This happened with each and every call I tried to make: my mom, my friend Max, my ex, the BMW service number. Fragments of conversations, frustration and a general sense of confusion hit me with every call I attempted through the car (the iPhone does allow you to select speaker or handset mode, but that defeats the purpose of "hands-free"). My hopes were being dashed as there was a breakdown in communication.

It was exactly like dating.

So, just like when things go south in a relationship and you call your friends for advice, I needed to find BMW-iPhone help. Luckily for me, I found out that a BMW-iPhone relationship advice line existed. I placed a call to BMW (on my landline) to 1-800-831-1117 for help.

The friendly BMW operator gave me the friendly, yet standard, script: Well, we were premature in announcing full compatibility between the iPhone and BMWs. This is an issue our engineers are examining. We'll make an announcement in a few weeks when the issue is resolved. We won't contact you--you'll have to check back with us.

I was being strung along.

But I maintained my early-adopter-must-be-patient-friendliness and then the operator lowered her voice and let me in on a secret.

"Well, this isn't official, but I've heard other people who have this problem have turned off their Wi-Fi while in their car and have had better results."

So I tried it, and, much to my surprise, it worked.

I guess it shows what a little patience, perspective and perseverance can get you. Now, calls in and through my car are effortless. The reception is still a marked improvement over that of the Razr. There are still patchy reception shadows throughout San Francisco, but on the whole, the quality of the calls are better. I just have to remember to switch on (or off) the Wi-Fi feature). I suspect that an update is forthcoming, I guess I'll have to be patient for that too.

Dates No. 2 and No. 3: Max's iPhone and MacBook.

Attempting to sync my iPhone with my friend Max's iPhone and with his new MacBook was a non-starter. Even after several attempts, our iPhones didn't find each other despite being inches apart. Nor was his new MacBook found. I guess the match just wasn't meant to be between these devices.

About the author

    Kevin Ho is an attorney living in San Francisco. He's from Iowa originally where he got his first Atari computer when he was little and remembers using the Apple IIGS. He is PC-user but secretly a Mac person in the closet as evidenced by many an iPod cluttering his desk drawers. He'll be writing about his experience with the iPhone. Disclosure.

     

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