Will voice control become the norm for in-car tech?

We look at Fiat's Blue&Me system, based on Microsoft Auto

Pairing your phone with the system

So how does Blue&Me work in the car? Well, once you've paired your Bluetooth mobile with the system, which you only need to do the first time you set it up, you then need to download your phonebook. In the Fiat 500, the menu options for Blue&Me are displayed on main multifunction instrument panel between the clock and the mileometer, while the USB port is situated near the handbrake between the front seats.

Fiat blue and me

On the left of the steering wheel you get a Windows key and an Escape/Mute key, as well as an OK and phone key on the right. There are also volume keys on plus scroll up and scroll down keys for moving between contacts in your phone book or tracks on your music player.

You only need to store your phonebook once, but don't worry about numbers changing – any changes are automatically updated whenever the system detects the mobile phone. The first time you connect your phone you'll also have to pair it with the system, so you'll need to enter a PIN into your phone as instructed by the car.

Fiat blue and me

The system supports five different phones at any one time, so it can handily be used by several people, should it be a work pool car, or a family vehicle. Should the system detect two synchronised mobiles in the car at the same time, it will simply pair with the last phone used. When you wish to make a call, you just say the name of the person you wish to call.

You can also call other numbers by dictating to the system. You can also use the controls on the steering wheel, or your voice, to scroll through the phone book on the instrument panel. When in a call, the system can be muted if you wish, or you can be notified of any call waiting for you.

When you receive a new text, the sender's name and number is displayed on the panel in front of you. You can then choose to have it read out with you, as well as review old texts or even call back the person who texted you.

Listening to music

When you want to listen to music, simply plug in a media player into the USB port. The Blue&Me system supports MP3, WMA and WAV format music, while you can connect almost anything to it, whether it's a simple USB drive with some songs on, or an iPod with your entire music library.

Fiat blue and me

In common with other digital audio systems you can plug an iPod into, the system can't play protected content, such as songs downloaded from the iTunes Store. When you connect the device to the USB port, you'll see 'MEDIA PLAYER' appear on the radio display in the front of the car. If you have a lot of tracks, Blue&Me will take a few minutes to build up and catalogue the music library.

You can then use the voice or button commands to browse and select the track you want to play – if applicable, you can browse through the various folders and files using the instrument panel display. Simply speak information such as the album, artist, and song title to listen to the relevant songs. Blue&Me can also recognise the .m3u format for listening to playlisted tracks.

So where will Blue&Me and Microsoft Auto take us in the future? The possibilities are many and extend naturally into portable navigation to begin with. Blue&Me MAP, a multi-functional portable navigator, was demonstrated in the Fiat 500 at the Bologna Motor Show 2007. Ford has announced that SYNC will have traffic, turn-by-turn directions and other information services such as weather and sports in 2010 year models. Fiat says that it is planning to offer such add-on services in "the near future."

Blue&Me will also "offer a simple navigation system and access to a set of services such as a personal assistant to look for addresses, weather and traffic information, satellite positioning of the vehicle in the event of it being stolen, an SOS service, and lots of others currently being developed." So watch this space.


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