Bugs & Fixes: Problems pairing iPhones to Bluetooth audio systems

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If you have an iPhone, but your car’s audio system doesn’t have Bluetooth support, stop reading now and go update your system. The technology is that good. By pairing your iPhone with your car, you have the absolute best, most convenient way for hands-free talking on a phone while driving. There’s no need for a headset of any kind. Nor is there any need to fumble with your iPhone when you want to make or answer a call. It can all be done from the dashboard controls or (in some cars) entirely by voice. As a bonus, the sound is typically louder and clearer than from a headset, allowing you to more easily overcome road noise.

Many car systems also support stereo Bluetooth playing of your iPhone’s iTunes music. I occasionally use this feature in my Ford Fusion Hybrid. With it, I can instantly and wirelessly begin playing music without even having to take the iPhone out of my pocket. If nothing else, it makes an impressive demo for passengers. However, Bluetooth is not a complete substitute for a USB connection between my iPhone and my car’s audio. With Bluetooth, I can’t select specific songs from the dashboard controls; the wireless connection can also run down the iPhone’s battery. Still, it’s a great option to have at your disposal.

There’s one potential problem with all of this: you may find that you cannot get past step 1—pairing your iPhone with the car’s audio system. In some cases, the problem extends beyond car systems to virtually any type of Bluetooth pairing.

Most often, people report that this symptom first appears immediately after updating to iOS 5. Based on feedback received here at Macworld, several users had this happen after updating from iOS 5.0 to the latest iOS 5.1 version. However, the problem seems to have originated with iOS 5.0, as evidenced by the many reports of this problem dating back to last October. As examples, check out this lengthy Apple Support Communities thread or this somewhat shorter one.

Even though the precipitating cause is an iOS 5.x upgrade, fixing it will likely depend upon the audio manufacturers. For example, another Apple Support thread zeroes in on an instance of this symptom specific to Ford automobiles. For many users, the solution was to update their car’s system via a specific Ford Audio Update.

If you have this pairing problem, and the audio manufacturer can’t or won’t upgrade the radio’s firmware, your only options are to buy a different radio (one that is compatible with the latest iOS versions), downgrade back to iOS 4.x (if possible), or give up on using Bluetooth in your car.

Of course, as is typically the case in these matters, many iPhone owners having been successfully using Bluetooth without any iOS upgrade hassles. I, for one, have never had any trouble getting my iPhone to pair with the radio in my Ford—with either iOS 5.0 or 5.1. Hopefully, that will be your experience as well.

Bluetooth Hotspot does not connect to Internet. An unrelated Bluetooth issue: I have been testing the Hot Spot capability of my new iPad with Verizon cellular. It works fine over Wi-Fi or USB. However, I have been completely unable to get a Hot Spot to work via Bluetooth. I can pair my iPad to my MacBook Air. I can even establish what appears to be a working Hot Spot connection over Bluetooth. But, when all is said and done, I can’t get online. For example, web pages won’t load. Again, this only happens for Bluetooth hot spots. If anyone knows what is going on here, let me know. I hope to report back with more on this and related matters in a subsequent column.

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