Are We There Yet? Still Waiting For Decent iPod Car Integration

in-dash iPod

Even Bob Borchers, Apple’s senior director of iPod worldwide product marketing, calls most iPod car setups an “inelegant mess of cassette adaptors and wires.” Indeed, while Apple aparently doesn’t want to get into the car audio business, they do want to improve the in-car iPod experience:

What Apple really wants you to buy is a car that’s designed from the ground up to interface with the iPod,” the Web site said. “The 30-pin connector on newer iPods can transmit all the information displayed on the iPod screen to a remote display. This lets car manufacturers display track information on the dashboard.

Still, Apple has a long way to go in uncluttering the wires from the iPod ecosystem. After reviewing current iPod integration offerings from premium car makers like Audi, BMW, Mini, and from audio/accessory vendors Pioneer, Kensington, and Dension, Francois Planque gives up on the fancy tricks and reccommends the simplest solutions possible:

I could go on and on with other iPod integration solutions, but really, most of them are pure crap. The only thing they get right is charging your iPod while you drive!

However, if you seriously care about listening to your iPod in your car, if you want to listen to podcasts and not to the same old playlist again and again, I think the only effective solution today is to use the iPod’s native interface and get the analog sound out, either through the headphone jack, or through the dock connector with an adapter.

You can then pump the audio into your car stereo in several ways:

  • A cassette adapter (bit quality sound won’t be that good)
  • A jack connector on your head unit if you’re lucky to have one
  • RCA connectors at the back of some head units (you can get an optional box from some manufacturers, like Pioneer…)

Then of course, some kind of docking system to have your iPod accessible at a convenient position can also help, compared to leaving your iPod on the passenger seat.

If you can’t live without charging your iPod while you drive, then the Dension RDS solution may be the best deal.

Anything more “advanced” is currently a waste of money. It’s good for demos and showing off. It’s useless for daily use.

Jake Ludington agrees, saying “big fat deal” to the much vaunted iPod + BMW integration that displays only playlist and track numbers — not names! — on the car’s stereo.

Integration means the metadata attached to the song gets passed to the car stereo system. Buttons built into the steering wheel don’t really make this better; the iPod’s remote could have accomplished the same thing, with very little intrusion.

So, aside from putting an iPod Hi-Fi on the dash, what’s a person to do to get easy iPod control in the car?

Joe Padula posted some pics of a very classy-looking mod (picture above) that turned his car’s in-dash cassette deck into an iPod dock, but he doesn’t show how he’s controlling it.

The iStore offers an adapter that seems to offer some promise. The iPod connects to the stereo via a standard dock connector, users can control the tracks via the car stereo and the iPod’s built-in controls.

Unlike some other car solutions, iPod2Car does not disable the controls or display of your iPod, so you will still be able to view track details and playlist information on your iPod. You will still be able to control the iPod with its controls in addition to your radio controls.

DICE Electronics has a similar offering that promises the addition of song titles in the radio display as well as an additional auxiliary input.

The good news is that at $160, it’s less expensive than iPod2Car’s adapter while appearing to offer more features, and it’s available for my Scion XB.

Now, where did the simple line-in jacks that were common on stereos ten years ago disappear to?