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iPod Car Integration Reality Check at Apple Expo 176

Posted by timothy
from the how-can-a-jumprope-be-hi-fi? dept.
An anonymous reader writes "At the last Apple special event, Steve Jobs was almost bragging about the fact that 70% of new cars sold in the U.S. this year had (optional!) iPod 'integration' available ... Obviously, he didn't talk about the rest of the world. But most of all, what Steve didn't tell us is how crappy the existing "integration" solutions actually are! Here is a review of actual iPod car integration solutions showcased Apple Expo 2006 Paris. Some of the nicest cars (like the Audi TT for example) don't necessarily have the best iPod interfaces."
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iPod Car Integration Reality Check at Apple Expo

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  • by Creosote (33182) on Monday September 25, 2006 @04:47PM (#16191001) Homepage
    Those of us driving old clunkers with cassette decks are snickering, as we can purchase low-cost cassette adapters for iPod or generic MP3 players that take about five seconds to install or remove and don't suffer from interference like the FM transmitters.
  • subaru (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mjsottile77 (867906) on Monday September 25, 2006 @04:58PM (#16191187)
    I've complained plenty to Subaru about the lack of options for my Outback. Up until the '07 models, the only solution was the less-than-optimal FM transmitter or an aftermarket replacement for the factory stereo. Unfortunately, in the '07 model they gave it zero effort in "integration" - all we get is an AUX input plug. Sure, this has the benefit of not being iPod specific, but it requires that I have an additional piece of hardware between the iPod and the car to take unamplified (ie, not from the headphone jack) output from the iPod and to feed into the car. Otherwise I'll have the fun that I used to have with the cassette deck adapters where you have to find that nice balance of cd player/iPod volume and system volume. Subaru is near the bottom of the heap with respect to iPod or Satellite radio integration, relying on external units with FM or (now) a single AUX plug as connection. There are many other manufacturers who have done it much better than Subaru has in terms of getting the audio signal into the stereo, and integrating control of the radio/iPod into the car controls to reduce safety risks. For a daily long distance commuter, this is definitely impacting my next car purchase. It's really a shame that such a nice car on the driving end of things fails so miserable in features like this.
  • by 7Prime (871679) on Monday September 25, 2006 @05:21PM (#16191583) Homepage Journal

    There is one option that he forgot to mention, when going over a final rundown of solutions to use: the generic, CD changer interface that doesn't try to read a specific playlist, and you simply control it with your iPod. Seriously, there is NO better interface to control an iPod than the iPod itself, and I'm sorry, but the difference between an interface display with a 10 point font and a 12 point font is really insignificant (especially when one you can hold right in front of you when operating it), so just use the fucking iPod itself.

    What I've done, on my '99 Camry, was I bought a "Blitzsafe" iPod adaptor, which plugs into the generic CD Changer port behind the console. I then built a little custom mount, using a modified Vaja case "rivet clip", to be able to quickly pull the iPod in and out of the mount, and attatched it to the top of my dashboard. This way, the rivet clip itself, on my case, acts as the mounting bracket. I left enough cable so that I can pull the iPod up to my face (while at a traffic light, or during light traffic), and operate it normally. If I'm just switching tracks, I'll just use the clickwheel. I've never seen a simpler, more reliable, safer, and more user-friendly iPod integration system than this.

    Basically, all I'm trying to say is that with a little research and some ingenuity, anyone can create something far better, and far cheaper than the ones shown here. Everyone has their own way of using their iPod: some people use playlists, others don't, some people put their iPod in a leather case, some put it in a clear rubber one, some (stupid people) don't put the iPod in any case and let it scratch to hell. From what I've noticed, is that most these iPod integration systems virtually require that you 1) use playlists (I don't) and 2) not have your iPod in a case. My suggestion, build your own out of generics if you have the time, then you can customize it to your own style of usage.

  • by 7Prime (871679) on Monday September 25, 2006 @05:42PM (#16191905) Homepage Journal

    People take their hand off the steering wheel all that time, ever heard of something called "shifting geers"? Seriously, people make a big deal about taking your hands off the wheel, but that isn't what's dangerous, what's dangerous is focusing your attention elsewhere for any length of time. Those fancy iPod controls might be right on the steering wheel, yes, but if the system is combersomb and frusterating to operate, then it's going to be far more distracting and dangerous than "taking your hand off the wheel" to operate an interface you've used for years. None of the systems I've seen offer a "simpler" (meaning less pushing of buttons) interface than the iPod itself. And most car stereo buttons are no bigger than the buttons on a click wheel, not that button size really matters anyway.

    It's myths like this that lead people to buy hands-free cellphone systems, even though they've been proven to be no safer than using a normal cellphone in the car. The only point to total car integration is that it feels snazy and looks pretty, although I'd say my homemade integration system (which uses the iPod for control) feels pretty snazy, maybe partly because I built it up myself.

    Now, what's important is that the iPod is positioned in a static, secure place that doesn't require fumbling around for it (like trying to feel where you last put it on the passanger's seat). I've created a little mount for my iPod belt clip (a Vaja case) right on the top of the stereo head unit, that way it's always in the same place when I reach over for it, and it's no farther away than the stereo or temperature controls. I can quickly hit the forward and back buttons like I would on any car stereo, or if I'm at a stop light, I can quickly lift it off its mount (attatched with a modified rivet clip on the back of the case), and pull it right in front of me for more in depth control. In this case, I can choose my own level of involvement with the UI according to the particular driving situation.

  • by Rockenreno (573442) <(rockenreno) (at) (gmail.com)> on Monday September 25, 2006 @05:54PM (#16192059)
    That doesn't make it safe... Distractions should always be minimized when possible. Listening to the car stereo (so long as it is not at absurd volumes) still allows entry of more outside noise than if you were earing headphones (heaven forbid you have some working, noise-cancelling headphones). Personally, I like to hear what's going on with my car as well as the environment around it to a certain degree so that I can act when necessary.
  • by catwh0re (540371) on Monday September 25, 2006 @07:14PM (#16193033)
    I think this is less a case of Apple doing a poor job, and rather the specific car manufacturer doing a bad implementation. In any case car companies are pretty happy updating their consoles with each revision... so even though it's an Audi which is supposed to be a nice car, and the console is currently unusable, it will be better in the next revision. (Cars often get system updates at services.)
  • by SnprBoB86 (576143) on Monday September 25, 2006 @09:52PM (#16194407) Homepage
    Car stereos that offer miniplugs are the best. This is THE WAY to do music player integration without the expense.
  • Thank you for pointing this out. I'm incredulous at the number of people seemingly incapable of tying their shoes while carrying on a conversation ... I drink coffee and drive, why not change stereo stations and drive? Why not talk to my wife or 4yr old while driving?

    Besides, that crap on the steering wheel encourages poor hand positioning. I like to drive at 10&2 as per my driving lessons way back (or the one-handed 12 o'clock position). Never do I have my fingers or thumbs anywhere near the area of the steering wheel that has controls on it (there's a reason Ferrari's paddle shifters are where they are).

    Why not make good UIs for car consoles with nice big finger-recognizable control surfaces? PS, when its cold out, I want to be able to turn the knobs with gloves on.

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