Whose Fault Is This?

Yesterday evening, I was lying in bed listening to an audiobook. It was playing on my iPhone, and I was listening on my AirPods. Suddenly, the audiobook stopped. I picked up my iPhone, and saw that it was still playing. It took a few seconds for me to think of checking where the audio was going. When I did, I found that it was sending the audio to my car.

My partner had just gotten home, and parked the car by the side of the house; on the same side as the bedroom. The car would have been about 10m from where I was, roughly the limit of Bluetooth transmission.

But why did the iPhone switch? It knew I was listening on the AirPods; why did it think I wanted to listen in the car?

I don’t know which device – the car or the iPhone – caused this, but it’s wrong. The iPhone shouldn’t switch audio without an alert, or a dialog asking if I want to switch.

15 thoughts on “Whose Fault Is This?

  1. This happens in my car, which has an aftermarket bluetooth receiver. When the car starts, after bluetooth connects to my iPhone, it will switch from playing on the iPhone to playing on the car stereo. Even worse, it will start playing the last thing that was playing, even if the phone is not currently playing anything.

  2. The same thing happens to me when in my car sometimes. I often listen to the morning news via a single AirPod while preparing my lunch, and when getting into my car to drive, the car audio usb kicks in and takes over playing. But sometimes, inexplicably, the audio will switch back to the AirPod! Very annoying!!

  3. My car “grabs” the audio from my iPhone whenever the phone gets near enough, and the car is “on”. Always. If the sound system is on it will pick up whatever was the last running audio – essentially whatever shows up on the “audio lozenge” in Control Center. The car pushes play.

    2017 Subaru

  4. It’s not just car audio that does this. Any time I turn on a bluetooth device, or one that has been paired comes within range like your car issue, the audio switches to the newly connected device. I’ve just assumed that’s the standard behavior and not thought anything of it. (I still don’t think anything of it — that’s just the way it works.)

  5. This is another automated system that is trying to just ‘do it for you’. The problem with all these types of automation is that it is down to the original developer of the software to guess at what they think the user will want. There are at least 2 problems with this. One is that they CANNOT know what all users will want as users are different. But also, even the same user will want different behaviour at different times. It is fundamentally impossible to write software that is able to always be right in things like this and it is arrogant beyond belief that developers are so convinced that they can.

    On the whole, I wish they wouldn’t even try.

    • Yes, but which device is causing it? In either case, I think the iPhone should display a dialog asking if I want to change my output.

      • I think it’s iOS that’s doing it. I’d be surprised if a Bluetooth device could command the iPhone to switch audio outputs. iOS knows that this particular Bluetooth device is your car. That’s why the “find where I parked” feature works. My guess is that Apple figures that when you get in your car, you want to switch to the car’s audio system even if you were using your AirPods. This seems like a reasonable assumption. It’s just that this particular scenario didn’t fit the assumption.

        It’s possible that the algorithm is more general and that the iPhone automatically switches audio output to any previously-paired Bluetooth device that becomes available. I’ll need to experiment to see if that’s the case. But I don’t have AirPods so I wouldn’t be able to test to see if it switches away from those.

      • Sorry I glossed over the part where you wanted a dialog to confirm the choice. That doesn’t seem like something Apple would do. This is more like one of Apple’s “we know what you want better than you do so we’ll just take care of it for you” times.

  6. I think this behavior is pretty much standard on most devices. Your phone is seeing a new audio device, and it’s switching to it, so the behavior is sorta your phone’s fault. Maybe put in a product feedback with Apple.

    Seeing as PCs and other phones tend to do the same when they see new audio destinations, I’m not sure how likely they are to budge. Though, I completely agree with you in that a configurable prompt (and maybe a “don’t prompt me again” option) would be ideal. They should really add an option “connect automatically when in range” under each bluetooth device so that you’re more in control over whether your phone pairs in the first place or not. I’m fine with manually connecting every time I get in my car.

    I can imagine there have been a number of embarrassments and frustrations caused by this problem. I received a tiny bluetooth speaker at work that I keep at my desk, and when I went out to the parking lot and pulled up a video on my phone, it took me a few seconds to realize that my phone had decided to re-connect to the bluetooth speaker and the sound from the video was blaring at full volume in my typically quiet office.

    You might be able to at least make the situation better by lowering the priority of your phone in your car’s head unit. This way, when your partner comes home, their phone will be preferred over your own, and as long as theirs is in range, the head unit won’t try and connect with your phone. You’d kind of be just moving the problem though; The question is, who is more annoyed by the problem, you or your partner? Adjust the priority in the head unit accordingly haha not ideal, but it’s something

  7. Thanks for all the comments. It’s clear that it’s iOS that hands off the audio without asking. I really would expect a dialog confirming that I want it handed off. I agree that this is an edge case, but if you have a car you share with someone this can be an issue.

  8. I just tried with AirPods playing. I watched the process. It’s the car. The car doesn’t care about what you are playing, the car cares about the phone. Car on, phone on, phone in range of car, phone is going to pair/switch with the car.

    The car doesn’t switch the audio system to play from the phone – I have to make that happen (I always set my “source” back to HD radio when I close up) if I leave the car in “Bluetooth audio” mode the phone will start playing whatever when the pairing process is complete.

    That makes sense to me. But it certainly could be annoying.

    • But the iOS device shouldn’t allow this without authorization. It could be a more or less permanent setting, but you should have a choice.

      • I gave explicit permission for the car to connect to the iPhone the day I got the car and paired my iPhone with it. The car hasn’t forgotten and doesn’t need to ask again.

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