Multifunction car FM transmitters edging out stand-alone models

Car FM transmitter makers are exploring the midrange and high end with value-added releases.

Single-function models are gradually relinquishing market dominance to features-rich variants in China’s car FM transmitters industry. Product development in the line accentuates multifunctionality and better designs.

Suppliers are taking advantage of this direction, equipping devices with WMA and MP3 playback, Bluetooth, RDS and power charging capability. More manufacturers are launching units that can read various media formats. The Z1RB model from Shenzhen Cross Electronics Co. Ltd, for example, supports APE and Ogg Vorbis.

Another value add-on is Bluetooth functionality, which enables wireless transmission of audio from mobile phones to an in-car speaker. Other makers, including Newlift Technologies Ltd, allow handsfree use through a 3.5mm port. High-end types usually have this feature. RDS-equipped transmitters, which are popular in Europe, are increasingly adopted as well.

All FM transmitters from China have power charging capability. Older models, however, power devices such as entry-level mobile phones or portable media players with a low current rating. The latest variants can charge gadgets that require a large current output, including the iPhone and iPad.

An increasing number of makers are releasing FM transmitters without built-in memory for cost considerations. This is because in units with storage capacity, fl ash memory accounts for about half of the total outlay. Manufacturers, however, add ports for SD, microSD, USB, Mini-USB and auxiliary to support various user requirements.

To counter intensifying device homogeneity, China suppliers pursue customization or develop the mold themselves. Shenzhen Cross reinforces this with its F5 model, which has a patented appearance. The device functions as an MP3 player and a charger.

Most transmitters are designed to be compatible with Apple products. The FM 8118 model from Shenzhen Sailing Electronic Co. Ltd, for example, can charge the iPod and iPhone and control audio playback via a remote control. Newlift’s NT-076MFI model is an Apple-approved transmitter that works with the iPhone 4 and iPad.

As for FM transmitter-based car MP4 players, most makers are abandoning production of this variety. Aside from the high costs, such devices require a built-in 1.5in LCD screen for video display, which will increase prices by about $5 compared with MP3 counterparts. Further, this type of transmitter is relegated to the high end, and only a handful of suppliers channel R&D efforts toward it.

Upscale models prevail

Releases from China cater to all price segments from the entry-level to the high end, with features and quotes as differentiators. Products in the first category usually have WMA and MP3 playback function and built-in decoders that can read audio files directly from SD and USB storage devices. Some variants can support APE and Ogg Vorbis.

High-end units, on the other hand, pack add-ons such as built-in microphones, Bluetooth, RDS, MPEG-4 playback or charging function. They can read AVI, ASF, WMV, MOV and VOB. Remote controls are usually bundled.

Most FM transmitters run on 12 or 24VDC through car cigarette lighter sockets. These devices have 1 to 1.8in LED indicators and OLED or LCD screens that display ID3 tags. Many of the latest variants have lyrics display function. The transmitters’ ICs usually come from third-party sources. The major suppliers are Actions Semiconductor, Sunplus, MVSilicon and Buildwin. Some companies procure from Rohm, Quintic, Accel or KT Micro. Bluetooth chips are typically from CSR or Broadcom. To ride the trend for Apple products, many makers are obtaining the Made for Apple certifi cation. Enterprises change the inner layout and ICs as part of the requirements and pay $8 to $10 for the certifi cation and appearance design fees. RDS capability will cost an additional $0.50 to $1, while Bluetooth about $10. Prices depend on the chips used and added features.

Entrylevel FM transmitters with MP3 playback range from $5 to $10. High-end units with charging function are between $11 and $15. Models with Bluetooth and IR remote control are $5 more expensive.

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