Bluetooth pairing for car and iPhone, Audi GSM phone system

It was with some amusement recently that I found out I could pair my iPhone with my car, given that the dealership had sold me a cradle for my old phone when I bought the car some years back. In fact, Bluetooth pairing had only ever been a few seconds away, despite the cost of a cradle, which only fitted one phone and therefore ensured I didn’t upgrade that phone!

It turns out that in the Audi system at least, Bluetooth is built in to the system if you have got a dash mounted GSM preparation, or a centre armrest version… as long as you buy the car with GSM phone preparation, it should work.

All you do to get your iPhone connected is switch bluetooth on and let it look for devices. The Audi appears in the list very quickly, and you enter the default password (1234 in most cases). Once done the phone will work through the phone system, allowing you to make and receive calls hands free and with no need for cables or cradles.

There is a delay in the system copying your phone book to the car, and in my case with over 400 entries it took simply ages – I believe three days went by before it finally completed. Voice dialling and voice control is not activated which is no big loss; the Audi system is pretty unreliable if you are driving at anything like normal speeds as it mis-hears almost everything you say. Using a multi-function wheel you can easily scroll through your contacts (which get displayed in your driver’s information panel in the centre of your dashboard) and make the call that you need. When the phone rings with an incoming call you simply press a button to answer it.

It couldn’t be simpler… but it took three years to find and only then through a chance conversation with the salesman who got my new car sorted (Stansted Audi, name of Bert Wildman).

I wish I had known before. In short, don’t buy a cradle unless you crave voice dialling features, use bluetooth instead.

iPod interface for cars, Dension fitted iPod system

I recently changed my car, leaving my trusted Audi A3 and therefore the Alpine N333RRS head unit, sat nav system and iPod interface. I didn’t let the car go with that system in place – I took it out and put back the Audi Chorus radio and tape player.

The new car, an Audi A3 Cabrio (yes, yes, I know… still an A3) came with no sat nav, but I did get a dealer fitted iPod interface. Guess what? It turns out to be a Dension device – either a gateway or ICE>Link – I don’t know which (it is hidden behind the centre console). The clues I had were obvious – the track name doesn’t show, the track number doesn’t advance and there was a leaflet left in the glove box with the Dension name all over it!

And in that nutshell you have it – the Dension systems are working, just, but there are obvious ommissions in functionality still. It must be three years or more since I stopped using the Dension system because of these shortcomings, and here I am right back where I was.

The iPod or the head unit can be used to change the track, but also so can the multi-function steering wheel. What is rather nice is that the phone system in the car works as it should, muting the playback to allow incoming or outgoing calls easily, but I fail to see why after all this time Dension kit still can’t show ID3 tags… specifically, the name of the song playing.

What also causes a wry smile is that a car maker as prestigious as Audi sees fit to install a 3rd party device in their cars. If Alpine can make a system that works as you want it to, showing track names, switching between play lists and folders, etc, then why on earth haven’t the major manufacturers put some R&D into creating their own systems yet? I suppose the argument is that the Dension kit does the job, but I have to say that is less than true. The Dension kit does half the job…

Since it was fitted by the dealership (or rather the local audio specialists) I have no idea what firmware has been installed, what would constitute an update or when I can expect better functionality.

So on the one hand I am delighted to have my iPod working, my phone working and have all the controlls at my fingertips whilst driving, I am disappointed that the old issues have remained for such a long time. I am bemused as to why Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Ford, Mazda… heck, anyone, hasn’t done this properly yet. As far as gadgets go the iPod is the ‘big one’, so what is taking the manufacturers so long to get a decent interface in their vehicles?

BETT show 2009

Cleveratom at BETT 09
Cleveratom at BETT 09

Cleveratom will once again be attending the BETT show, partnering with City College Norwich in the new technologes zone, on stands U120 and U130.

This year we will be showcasing some tools we have developed:

  • Thought Park – a superb new learning platform built entirely to support social constructivist learning. It is being used in Primary schools and secondary schools, supporting the roll out of the new Diplomas. It is also the engine underneath the excellent ‘RUGroom.net’ software that City College students will be using at the show.
  • Spoke – an innovative tool for engaging people in dialogue online. At it’s most simple it is a questionnaire tool but it is able to be much more than that. You can create any scenario that you want to find information out about and invite anyone to participate. It is currently being used in Primary schools and secondary schools to support Personalised Learning, and in secondary schools to engage pupils in self and peer assessment. It is also being used as a target setting and self assessment tool. One size fits all? Not anymore!

Ask us also about ‘Mobistick’ which is a lovely web based system for collecting SMS messages from anyone. Simply provide the number and invite people to text and you can collect feedback no matter where you are or what you are doing. It also allows you to run simple polls too. We use it when presenting at conferences to allow the audience to ask a question or make a comment. It is also used by schools to engag parents in dialogue, and by conference centres to provide as a service for their clients.

We’ll be delighted to talk about any of these, and much more besides, but you can find out more by going to the cleveratom website. I am pleased to say I will be working with Stephen Heppell once again, giving presentations on his stand in the main hall, and I hope that this show will be the busiest yet. It is likely to be the last at Olympia, too… or so the rumours go. It is all moving to Docklands if we are to believe the whispers!

In the mean time, see you at Olympia – click this link and it will take you to our online Christmas card and a couple of images of the new stand so you know what you are looking for when you get there!

Cinema Food costs way too much, and tickets are never checked

I went to the cinema today wiht the children and paid somewhere around £25 for the tickets. It was just after lunchtime and we were all peckish so we thought a few bags of popcorn and a drink each would tide us over. I normally don’t indulge in this kind of snack because I consider it to be so unhealthy, but I was weary and felt like a lazy compulsive.

We queued for a moment until my eleven-year-old daughter turned to me holding around 60p in her hand and said “here you are daddy, this is my contribution – it’s all I’ve got”. Naturally, my heart melted and I told her to keep her precious pennies. I casually glanced to the menus above the serving area, not really thinking about cost so much as content when I saw with some horror the amount of money that popcorn commands.

This is surely a mistake. A small-ish bag of popcorn and a medium sized drink cost more than the cinema ticket. £6.30.

Now, I know that cinemas make some money on the peripheral goods, like sweets, ice-creams and so on. What I didn’t realise was they are attempting to asset-strip every parent who wants to give their kids a small treat. I may have been weary, but I was thinking straight and couldn’t believe what i was reading. Pop-corn has got to be one of the cheapest products to create. Coke is not all that much more to produce but in the size it was being offered it is over six times more expensive than petrol.

So, being in Bluewater (Dartford crossing area of the UK), there are any number of shops who will sell you snacks. We walked away (my daughter’s request, not mine) and found some sweets and a drink elsewhere. The entire cost for all of us came to a little over the cost of one at the cinema.

But then you have to run the gauntlet of ticket checkers who see whether you are carrying food and drink in, of course. Apparently you are not allowed to do so. Ah well, over we went, goodies stuffed into our pockets, looks of innocence all round. The tickets were handed over as a batch, stacked one on top of the other. The young girl simply took the lot, tore them in half and handed them back without stopping to count or check them. In we went to “screen 4, downstairs”.

Now, I like to think I am a reasonably straightforward and honest chap, but I was drawn into any number of thoughts about how I could have got into the cinema with two tickets and a truckload of food, saving a fair amount of money in the process. Dark thoughts kept recurring to me all the way downstairs and into screen 4, until the film started.

Even darker thoughts then occurred to me as I realised I was in another low quality film. Dull, dull, dull. Something with Keanu Reeves and the day the earth stood still. Absolute nonsense, and not worth watching at all. Even my normally very easy to please daughter came out of that one saying we should have gone to see a different film. Ah well. Beleagured parents everywhere take note – buy fewer tickets and save a few quid – spend that money in a news agent and don’t even contemplate popcorn from the cinema, and always read the reviews of films before you go to see them.