Incredible Shrinking Bluetooth Car Adapter Market

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I drive a several-year-old car that came with no bluetooth integration. When we bought it, it mattered, but only a bit. Since then, all of our audio and video have become digital, and we have multiple bluetooth-capable mobiles with us on a regular basis. Bluetooth has come to matter much more.

Unfortunately, the design of our dashboard, like many cars in the last ten years, makes replacing the radio extremely complicated. Rather than the standard single-DIN interface, it looks something like the following photo (not of my actual car). The radio is right above the gearshift.


Notice how the radio has a very strange faceplate style.

A few years ago, I even bought a nice JVC after-market head unit to install, only to discover that I simply could not get it in. So I put my nice JVC in storage, went to my fallback and looked for aftermarket bluetooth adapters that could stream audio through the car's speakers for phone calls and audio. Unfortunately, pickings are extremely slim. I ended up buying a Parrot mki9100 with a standard ISO wiring adapter, and a proper harness to connect it to my car's wiring.

Over time, I have explored the car audio market, as the lack of aftermarket has always seemed interesting to me. Apparently, there are very few manufacturers of "integrated Bluetooth adapters" that allow one to play music and do phone calls through the car's audio infrastructure. Initially, as Bluetooth became widely available on phones but auto manufacturer radios were slow to adapt, a number came to market. But over time, the costs of the units plus installation came close to the cost of just buying a better-than-original aftermarket audio unit from the likes of JVC/Kenwood, Pioneer or higher end Alpine. So most consumers either left it as is, or bought aftermarket car audio systems, rather than integrated Bluetooth adapters.

Finally, car manufacturers, slow to respond but responding eventually, began to integrate Bluetooth and even multimedia capabilities into their manufacturer original units. As the gap between original units and aftermarket units shrank, and Bluetooth became integrated on all of them, the market for integrated adapters became almost unsustainably small.

In response, the number of providers has almost disappeared. Only Parrot remains in business. Motorola, Sony, many others created integrated adapters, and then let them wither on the vine.

A niche market filling in a need can be a good market... but only for a few years. It is great to use as a springboard into adjacent markets - in our example, becoming a primary manufacturer of Bluetooth components for aftermarket manufacturers or even OEM supplier of multimedia components to car manufacturers - but the transition must be quick, or one will be squeezed on both ends.