Up until Ford’s MyFord Touch, integrating your cell phone with your car was terrible. Although the concept isn’t new (it’s been in use for about a decade), automakers implemented half-assed integration systems in their cars that cost a fortune did not integrate well at all with your phone. What’s worse is that those systems loathed change more than the average human being, so if you were to purchase a new phone you had to make sure that the phone was compatible with your car’s system otherwise you would have a $1000 dead weight addon. And all to often did automakers push out a total of one firmware update to that system over the course of one year before scrapping any further updates in order to focus their funds on a completely new system. The root of this suckage? The development process lay in the hands of the automakers. Blue&Me fixes all of that.
Developed and maintained by Microsoft for the Fiat Auto Group (available in Fiat, Alfa Romeo, and Lancia brands), Blue&Me uses the Windows Mobile platform to make any dumb-audio system into a smart-audio system. This means that you don’t need an entire navigation addon or any extra components. It works with the stock stereo and HUD, saving you cash and giving you the full experience of cell phone integration. Since Blue&Me is maintained by the Windows Mobile team you also are graced with frequent firmware updates to make your basic system compatible with new phones and operating systems, such as iOS 4.
Blue&Me doesn’t require any cables or accessories, all it needs is a phone that has Bluetooth. It then syncs with your phone to provide call integration, phone book sync, SMS readout and recitation, and digital audio transferring. This means that you can use your steering wheel controls to scroll through your phone book and make calls and you be informed when new text messages arrive and choose to have the system read them to you via the speakers. Furthermore, it allows you to play music digitally on your car stereo system so you get the full audio experience of however you’ve encoded your MP3s, Pandora, or whatnot. And of course, if you choose to make a phone call or if you receive one, you don’t have to touch your phone as you can control it all from your steering wheel. If you are playing music, it will automatically pause and resume the music accordingly.
Where Blue&Me really shines is that Microsoft has made it expandable so you can add accessories depending on your needs and wants. For example, in the center console you have a USB port so you can charge your phone or play music directly off of a thumb drive or an iPod. Microsoft and Fiat have also partnered up with TomTom so if you have a portable TomTom navigation unit, it pops right into a pre-installed slot on your dash, eliminating the need to pull a power wire to your outlet or use those suction cups on your windshield that all too often loose suction and send your navigation unit tumbling down. And like the rest of the system, not only does the TomTom integrate flawlessly, but it doubles as a touchscreen display for your phone or portable media.
Blue&Me has been available in Fiats, Alfa Romeos, and Lancias in Europe for almost four years now and it has changed very little. The Windows Mobile team may have gotten plenty of flack for their products pre-Windows Phone 7 but its with Blue&Me that the team created something amazing that has yet to be outdated. Not only is it simple and powerful, but it is affordable. It’s a pity that US automakers didn’t jump on board with Blue&Me because if you didn’t purchase an in-dash navigation unit with your new car, you pretty much were at the mercy of the automaker to provide some sort of cell phone and USB integration at a hefty addon price…with no guarantee of maintaining the product once a new model year came along. It’s ease of use, powerful features, constant updates, and expandability has made me fall in love with Blue&Me to the point of it playing a huge role in my car purchase this summer.
Blue&Me will be arriving in the US with the Fiat 500 later this month and Blue&Me will be a $500 addon. It is well worth the money and it trumps Ford Sync (which coincidentally is also developed by Microsoft).