The Bluetooth Runaround

Today we have yet another tale of consumer woe and multiple corporate failures.  This one is a doozy, since it affects a couple of popular products and is generating a lot of chatter on the interwebs.  In fact, one popular site has over a hundred comments on this topic and that’s just a subset of the problem.

Android invasion, Sydney, Australia

(Photo credit: Pranav Bhatt)

As our featured players we have a very popular phone, a couple of very popular families of cars, every cell phone carrier (notice I didn’t use the term “popular” with them) and a LOT of consumers.  Let me explain.

A coupe of months ago I upgraded my phone to the Galaxy SG3.  I love the phone – great display, very fast – no complaints at all.  It came with the Ice Cream Sandwich version of Android and I use AT&T as my carrier.  When I got the phone I linked it to my car – a Nissan Altima Hybrid – using Bluetooth and was happily using the car’s built-in hand’s free system to chat and drive safely.

A month ago I became even happier when AT&T pushed an upgrade to Android, installing the Jelly Bean version.  The phone seemed even faster, I got Google Now, and  I was happy to be running a more current version.  Until I received a phone call in the car.  It sounded like an alien calling and I had to pull over to pick up the phone and talk.  I rebooted the phone, it connected to the car, but the sound was bad.  Unusable, actually.  I tried pairing it again to the car, hard resets of the phone and a few other tricks but the audio is completely garbled.

A search on the topic showed me that we have a multiple part blame game going on.  It is an issue affecting not just Nissans but VW/Audi, Inifinitis and a few other models.  Just this phone, every carrier, and only when the phone is upgraded to Jelly Bean.  The carriers say it’s Samsung’s fault.  Samsung says the auto guys need to upgrade the Bluetooth software in their cars.  They all blame Android for not making the Bluetooth version in Jelly Bean backward compatible.

Here is what none of them are doing:  taking responsibility for fixing it.  What they’re not seeing is that it’s costing them money as well as massive amounts of goodwill.  At a minimum  it’s hundreds of calls to customer service, each of which costs money   In the case of the carriers, many people are demanding new phones (which have the older version of Android) to replace the upgraded one.  That’s expensive.  Does any business have too many customers?  There are a lot of cars/phones/carriers from which one can choose, and while very few people are going to make an immediate change to their car or carrier, people don’t forget how they were supported when the time for that evaluation comes.

I’m not sure how I’m going to deal with this.  Maybe I’ll just try to use the phone’s speaker if I get a call while driving.  Maybe I’ll go get a new S3 and not upgrade it until I see this is fixed or they push another version of Android (the rumors are 4.2.2. fixes it).  I’m really interested to see if any party to this mess steps up and does something other than point fingers.  Why am I not surprised?  Isn’t that sad?

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