By on September 15, 2011

[Ed: The above video is not intended as a specific example of the problems we faced, but a general illustration of the wider issue]

While on a junket for the Hyundai Veloster I was treated to yet another instance of The Most Infuriating Thing About New Cars – the lack of any decent way to connect your iPod to the in-car entertainment system.

As TTAC Editor-In-Chief Ed Niedermeyer and I toured Oregon’s various scenic byways in the newest Hyundai, our musical selections were repeatedly interrupted due various errors, whereby Ed’s iPhone was unable to sync, refused to completely sync, or randomly re-synced. Our attempts at listening to the new Bon Iver album, or Burn After Rolling (the listenable mixtape made by limp-dick rapper Wiz Khalifa) were interrupted by a blast from XM’s pop station, as the iPod integration took a giant shit on us. Nothing spoils the conversation like having your ambient rock or gangsta rap interrupted by Katy Perry or Lady Gaga.

In the pre-USB port days, there were two options – you could use an “iTrip”, a crude device that plugged into a cigarette lighter and used a small radio transmitter to broadcast your music over a dormant frequency. Tuning your radio to said frequency allowed you to have your own private radio station, although it was frequently interrupted by transmissions from competing commercial stations, especially on road trips where frequencies changed every so often.

The other option was the auxiliary port – a 3.5 mm audio jack that plugged into the car stereo and allowed you to control your iPod without any aural interruptions like an iTrip. The only problem is that these were extremely rare in the pre-USB era, and have failed to become ubiquitous.

My guess is that the USB/touch-screen integration is a response to fears of possible litigation via crashes caused by distracted drivers, who could ostensibly fiddle with their iPods while it’s plugged in to the auxiliary port. BMW once offered an iPod integration system that forced you to create pre-made playlists and didn’t allow for any browsing of the music library, which I suspect was done for this reason.

The big problem is that most iPod integration systems are varying degrees of garbage. Currently, Ford’s SYNC system is the worst, despite its ubiquity, and every Ford product I review, I try and bash it. I would stop, but I’ve yet to have a SYNC system that works properly, without being a massive distraction and malfunctioning on multiple occasions. None of my passengers, from my technologically savvy 18-year-old brother, to my own friends (who are supposed to be “connected”, “plugged-in” Gen-Y types) can figure it out, and if they do, they inevitably get frustrated with the confusing menus, lack of a “back” button (a crucial feature when your iPod has 10,000 songs and you don’t want to scroll through endless menus to find one damn song) and the occasional disconnection because “SYNC failed to connect to your portable audio device”.

For all the marketing pap about reaching out to a generation of buyers who care less and less about cars, the one thing the OEMs need to do is the one thing they are constantly fucking up. For Gen-Y, the most important part of the driving experience has nothing to do with dynamic. They just want to listen to music painlessly. And not get violated at the gas pump . Being able to drive something with a bit of panache isn’t a bad thing either.

Hyundai managed a gentleman’s C on those criteria. Let’s see who gets an A+.

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94 Comments on “When Will We Get A Decent iPod Interface?...”

  • avatar

    The only way I see these issues with poorly thought out entertainment systems being solved, is when Apple itself gets directly involved. I know there are a lot Apple haters out there, but they make products that just work. Ever other tech company tries to cram as much crap in their systems as possible without any attention paid to the user experience. If there’s one thing that Apple knows better than anyone, it’s making things work intuitively.

    Then again, I don’t see cars being a high priority of the Apple philosophy, so I think we’re all screwed for a while yet.

    • 0 avatar

      Not a hater, per se, but two places where Apple’s portable products indisputably fall on their faces, taking their customers with them, is the proprietary/jailed file organization and iDevices’ ability to interface with non-Apple products.

      This is fairly pertinent because many autos with USB-interfaces seem to prefer a non-proprietary/accessible file structure.

      Last year I purchased a VW with an Apple-iPod cable connecting it to it’s media player. Even after I applied a firmware update to the media player, the Apple interface would lag 3 seconds at the start of the song (popping at second 4-5) and browsing the iPod from the main menu was dangerously slow (took the iPod 30-45 seconds to refresh the screen pre-firmware upgrade, 10-15 seconds post.) In a word, dangerously useless.

      Took out the pod, and dopped a FAT32-formatted hard drive that cost 1/4 as much as an iPod and has 10x the disk space. Works seamlessly (i.e. browsing/queueing music is instantaneous.)

      Like I said, not a hater per se, I just think “cheaper” and “fundamentally better” is a preferred option for my lifestyle. Apple is sexy, I’ll grant the fanbois that.

      • 0 avatar

        This post reveals a fundamental difference in understanding what Apple does and what geeks want.

        The sandboxed filesystem is a good thing for the average consumer. They don’t think in terms of files. They think in terms of songs. You and I want one copy of a given media file on the device, accesible for any given app we want to access it with. My mother wants the movie in the player, where she thinks it’s going to be.

        That’s not Apple falling down. That’s Apple understanding 95% of the market better than you.

        You want a manual transmission and an actual foot clutch. Regular people just want to step on the gas and go.

      • 0 avatar

        You may be correct, but my VW seems to prefer what the average geek wants, and not what Steve Jobs wants the car to want.

        Apple does sexy very well. Apple does not do versatile. We do live in a world where Scott Stapp can sell millions of records, so yes Apple does understand the market better than I do.

        I love my iPod and the iPad is tits. But the end of the day, to fix my Apple-induced car media problem, I didn’t swap my GTI for another car, I swapped my iPod for another hard drive. A third pedal and a functional file system are not fashion statements, they are necessities.

      • 0 avatar

        You prove my point. You think that third pedal is a necessity. 95% of Americans vehicle buyers disagree with you. Not only do they not think it’s a necessity, the majority of them think of it as an unnecessary hindrance.

        And that’s VW falling down on providing its customers what they want. In terms of market share, Apple IS the media player market and is the single largest smartphone maker. If VW can’t make their units work with the single largest manufacturer of portable media devices, that’s VW dropping the ball.

        Personally, I find a lot of things extremely frustrating about the iPhone and iOS sandbox. Or at least I did until I just ponied up and paid the $99 fee to run all the unsigned code I want.

        I’ve got a list a mile long with all the stuff Apple does wrong, starting with their one-size-fits-all attitude. Them actually delivering usable computing to the unwashed, non-techie masses? That’s not one of them.

      • 0 avatar

        Apple does a lot of proprietary stuff that generally makes it harder for third parties to make their products work well. However, Apple owns such a huge chunk of the smartphone and media player market that it’s ridiculous not to make sure your stuff works well with Apple gear, even if that means you have to program in special cases specifically for dealing with Apple gear.

      • 0 avatar
        Felis Concolor

        Apple’s dominance of the pmp/smartphone market wouldn’t be so bad if Apple’s traditional behavior towards 3rd parties wasn’t terrible. Just ask any developer how difficult it is to get a low level API from them; a lot of programming forums and message boards for Apple have begun to make their top advice “move to Android” as a solution.

      • 0 avatar
        Chicago Dude

        “Just ask any developer how difficult it is to get a low level API from them; a lot of programming forums and message boards for Apple have begun to make their top advice “move to Android” as a solution.”

        Really, which programming forums? I have yet to see one.

        Apple’s position is that if you are going to do something then you should take the time to do it right. They have extensive documentation, tutorials, sample code, guides, etc available for free on their website. Apple has been obsessing over iOS for a decade (it was an internal project for many many years before the iPhone came out) and they have a huge number of high-level APIs that they would prefer you use. Asking for a low-level API is just short circuiting the process and is not going to gain you much if any performance since the system is built specifically for those high-level APIs. All you get is software that doesn’t work the way users expect it to work. Why would Apple encourage that? Hmm, maybe that is why people suggest these programmers switch to Android. Nothing is consistent so how can users expect things to work a certain way?

      • 0 avatar

        “If VW can’t make their units work with the single largest manufacturer of portable media devices, that’s VW dropping the ball.”

        My familiarity with technology runs back to the 8088; part of my job description involves solving problems. So with that said let’s run through the outcomes here:

        When plugged into my new-cherry ride last year:

        Droid phone: works like a champ

        SD card with MP3 files: works like a champ

        Thumb-drive with MP3 files (and firmware upgrade for the crApple OS): Works like a champ

        FAT32-formatted hard drive: Works like a champ

        iPod: pre-firmware takes 30+ seconds to buffer, post firmware takes 15+ seconds to buffer

        Again, Apple does sexy well. If you’re willing to tether your balls to the Apple leash, everything will integrate beautifully.

        Some of us live in a world with USB, SD cards, external cameras, functional browsers, non-Apple apps, and CARS WITH DATA INPUTS.

        Take careful note of the subject of this thread. Whats the common theme: why oh why can’t many autos integrate with Steve Jobs’ proprietary format.

        The problem is not my car, or the auto industry; if I can plug in a thumb drive or an SD card, each of which cost less than a 12-pack of beer, and simultaneously have trouble with a “user-friendly” consumer electronic that cost hundreds when new (a theme that is apparently common across several makes) the problem clearly isn’t with the car, it is Apple.

        But again, I’m an engineer by trade and not in marketing. I make my living by solving problems, not making promises.

      • 0 avatar


        My experience also runs back to the 8088. I remember installing my first 10MB RLL hard drive in an XT.

        I, too, am an engineer. That was before I went public health/medical.

        I, too, solve problems for a living. As the guy who has to wear the engineer’s hat in the type of work that I do (humanitarian aid), I like to tell people that I basically get to be Macgyver. You know that scene in Apollo 13 where one engineer walks into a room full of other engineers and says, “we gotta make this work with that, using only this.” I actually get to do that.

        I was going to respond to your points, but I got the sense that at this point, you’re more interested in a dick waving contest. I hope I’ve obliged in a satisfactory manner.

      • 0 avatar

        Forgot about this thread, thought I’d come back and check on the response a couple weeks later.

        Dude, signal, I’m re-reading our discussion.

        “I was going to respond to your points, but I got the sense that at this point, you’re more interested in a dick waving contest. I hope I’ve obliged in a satisfactory manner.”

        Again, I merely re-state the problem (Apple) and my solution (affordable electronics built by someone other than Apple.)

        Just because you’re standing their with your dick in your hand does not make this a dick waiving contest.

      • 0 avatar

        Hey man, I hold nothing against you. In fact, I probably agree with your opinions more often than not.

        But let’s not pretend that you didn’t draw first blood with the “I’m an engineer/I’m a problem solver” bit. You opened that door of argument from authority, not me.

      • 0 avatar

        Fair enough, perhaps I was arguing from authority, I was just providing context that I am familiar with technology and very familiar with Apple’s limitations.

  • avatar

    The iPod interface in my wife’s Infiniti works just fine. I think it would look better if the displayed album art was larger, but other than that it does everything that I need it to do. I haven’t tried any voice commands with it, though.

    • 0 avatar

      I have a 2011 BMW 3 series. It works great – although just like the Infiniti I’d like the album art to be larger. It looks pretty good when side by side with the Navigation map, but it’s postage stamp size when I’m looking at the playlist alone. It takes a few seconds to sync up current playlist when you connect, but it starts playing as soon as I switch to the iPod Aux In. Also, it has the 3.5″ audio in as well. I tried to use the Bluetooth once, but annoyingly you have to use the iPod controls rather than iDrive so it’s very inconvenient when you’re the driver. Other than that, audio quality was great.

      • 0 avatar

        I can add the the iPod interface in the non-iDrive ’11 3-series is pretty good too. No album art of course since you are limited to the two-line display on the stereo. I mostly use thumbdrives though, I absolutely loath iTunes and can just about barely stand to use it to load music on my iPhone.

        The very best interface I have encountered is on the Parrot MKi9200 that I had in my Saab and have in my Volvo, but that is not a factory installed unit.

      • 0 avatar
        Sgt Beavis

        I’m having the same good experience with my 2011 328i sport wagon. It has the base radio but works great with my iPod NANO.

      • 0 avatar

        I think the trick is you can’t have too large an iPod/Thumbdrive. Once you get beyond 4Gb or so, the amount of scrolling to get to something specific is just ridiculous. I bought a bunch of 4Gb Thumbdrives in multiple colors to use just for car music. I have a good idea what is on each one, and it is much simpler to change the drive than to scroll.

        Of course, thumbdrives are ~$4ea vs. $100+ for an iPod. :-) But I do occasionally use my iPhone as well.

  • avatar

    See, I’ve yet to run into a SYNC system that *doesn’t* work properly with an Apple device… bizarre, as it’s a Microsoft-sourced system.

    What was it about the Hyundai system that eked out a C?

    • 0 avatar

      My sample size of 1 is admittedly small, but I had no problem syncing my iPod Nano or iPhone to the SYNC equipped 2011 Focus that I rented two weeks ago. It wasn’t the most intuitive system that I’ve ever used, but it wasn’t bad. Especially given the price point of the vehicle.

  • avatar

    Possibly you and your boyz are just technologically incompetent? My iPhone and the SYNC system in my Mustang work just great together. Enjoy trolling though!

  • avatar

    I’d love to read comprehensive reviews of how well iPod integration is handled in various cars.

    Wait, am I supposed to be the one writing these reviews?

    If so, I’ve got some catching up to do in an area where my kids currently know a lot more than I do.

    A first step: what “tests” should be included? What would the ideal iPod / smartphone integration be able to do?

    • 0 avatar

      “What would the ideal iPod / smartphone integration be able to do?”

      Since interfaces need to be learned, I’m not sure that any OEM could hope to put out something that would be a hands-down winner with everyone. I know people who can’t figure out how to efficiently navigate their the media players on their phones, or even a standard iPod or iTunes interface. There are, however, two criteria that would be worth a B+ rating regardless of interface:

      1 – It would be able to stream your library info directly from the device without the need to catalog the entirety of the library each and every time it’s connected or the car is restarted. Recent experience with a 2011 Equinox gave me an excuse to explore the FM band in the great state of Arizona.

      2 – It should be able to connect through both bluetooth and USB. Extra credit if they also throw in a 3.5 mm aux jack.

    • 0 avatar

      There are two basic test sets: functionality (what can it do) and ergonomics (how easy, safe and convenient is it?)

      Usually, reconciling those two is very hard. Where Apple has had a lot of success is in paring down the complexities as people in the consumer space notice a poor design before paucity of features.

      MyTouch, for example, has great functionality but totally bombs the ergonomics test, as do the Germans’ systems. Kia, Chrysler and Toyota had good ergonomics, but the systems are much simpler and easier to use.

      • 0 avatar

        Id like to see the failure rate as in x times of 100. usability will be king in this kind of research report. If you cant figure it out, it’s worthless. I’d personally like to see screen by screen comparisons of each system. In all honesty its great the companies are trying, where they are failing is that each system is different, yikes. I guess thats a poke at brand loyalty, LOL. They need a standard, which lets face it, would only make everyone a bit more sane and might reduce some accidents. Finally I would also like to see what company offers the best training on how to use the device, are there online videos, does a dealer walk you through it (yeah right)! Which is most flexible as well.

    • 0 avatar

      A solid system should:

      1. Allow for streaming through both USB and Bluetooth on a wide variety of devices

      2. Allow control of the system primarily through voice and steering-wheel mounted buttons to reduce the potential for distraction

      3. Have voice recognition that actually works

      4. Allow for some customization and upgradeability to better integrate with smartphone apps

      However you review them though, take the time to actually learn how to use the system properly (whether by talking to someone knowledgeable at a dealership, reading the manuals thoroughly, or watching the videos available online) before passing judgement. The thing that infuriates me about most auto-journalist technology reviews is that they just hammer at the system without bothering to have the functionality demonstrated first or taking the time to RTFM. That, and many have the cars for all of a week and complain that they never quite got the hang of something while the average owner will have the car for years, and likely another vehicle from the same brand afterwards, and will therefore have plenty of time to learn how to use the technology easily.

      • 0 avatar

        The thing that infuriates me about most auto-journalist technology reviews is that they just hammer at the system without bothering to have the functionality demonstrated first or taking the time to RTFM

        I would point out that, for a well-designed system, you should rarely if ever have to RTFM. If you’re asking people to RTFM for something that, in the past, didn’t require an FM, you’ve F’ed it.

      • 0 avatar

        NulloModo, Jaguar’s fleet manager just informed me that I’m on the list to get the XJ Portfolio sometime in November. Looking over the features on that car I figure that before I drive the car I’m going to have to spend a couple of hours RTFMing.

        iPod compatibility doesn’t mean much to me because I don’t have an iPod.

        Actually, I sort of like cackalacka’s idea of just hooking up an external hard drive via the USB port. I was just in the market for a big drive because processing 3D video for Cars In Depth ate up all my free drive space. You can get a one terabyte external hard drive for about $65 at MicroCenter. I was going to go with that until a friend found out that they had a 2 TB internal drive for only $75. The idea of that much storage for a relative pittance is amazing. My first hard drive was a 10 meg drive. My first “big” hard drive was 300 megabytes and I think I paid $325 for it.

    • 0 avatar

      The ideal setup is one that lets you connect your device and forget it and control through the normal audio system, whether that’s voice prompts, normal dash controls, touch screen, or steering wheel controls. It should do so quickly, dependably, and with plug and play ease (the whole reason we believe in one bus, serial and universal). Using the normal audio system controls (steering wheel, voice commands, touch screen, iDrive, or whatever), you should be able to browse the device by the normal search parameters (artist, playlist, song, album, etc) and have access to saved podcasts. If it’s using some sort of MFD or double din setup, a clear listing is definitely expected, but my old aftermarket Pioneer Premier single din head unit allowed for relatively easy browsing (only irritating part was a it wasn’t quick to respond to scroll clicks). Some sort of memory that would pickup where you left off before would be nice. Oh, and the ability to charge the device is CRITICAL. Ideally, you could stream audio from your device so if you use it as a Sat radio receiver, have Pandora, a GPS, or other App, you can still here that. Yes, the aux jacks work reliably and sound good, but to me, it’s more of a distraction to be fumbling with my Jesus phone and trying to adjust it while driving than using the cars normal audio controls. The two cars I’ve driven with that sort of connection are a rental Infiniti G37x and my boyfriends Mazda 3GT.

      The Infiniti connected through the normal Apple USB connector and the Mazda over Bluetooth. The Infiniti loaded up quickly, and as I recall, gave me full access to my songs and playlists and complete control over them. Every once in a while it would fail to load but shutting restarting the phone and the car would usually fix it. My biggest complaint was an inability to stream music from my phone, so I couldn’t listen to Pandora, for example. The Mazda’s bluetooth will stream whatever audio the device is playing, and even control it using the steering wheel controls, but the downsides are that audio quality is not as good and you have no visual display showing you what’s playing. In both cases, I was able to do the connections myself without consulting the manual, and although I’m 27, I’m not the most tech savvy person.

  • avatar

    I think a better question is when will we collectively wake up and realize these infernal touch screens are no different than automatic seat belts; they are a stupid idea just waiting for someone to realize the emperor has no clothes on.

    I don’t care how fancy or new a system or technology is, it if requires navigating a menu to use it (not just to set up/configure)–especially while driving–it is a failure.

    • 0 avatar

      The answer is never. We are not going to move backwards from touch screens/MFDs despite their flaws. You need to get used to this idea.

      • 0 avatar

        It’s true that they’re not going anywhere… But why am I stuck with the touchscreen that came with my car? I keep cars a lot longer than I keep electronics, so why can’t I buy a new touchscreen every 3 years with the latest features?

        I may replace the car stereo in my beater-truck with an Android tablet and a small amp. But I’m only considering this undertaking because I’m a technical hobbyist and I enjoy this sort of thing.

        What are people who don’t enjoy this sort of thing supposed to do, when they have a perfectly excellent car and out-of-date electronics? Also, what are people who would prefer to remove the display entirely (like the poster above) supposed to do?

        Clearly we need a more standardized interface for these MFDs. There’s probably a lot that technical hobbyists can do with interfacing between the CAN bus and CarPCs/Androids/iPads, but my searching on the subject suggests that there’s a lot of work to be done before it’s far enough along for guys like me….

      • 0 avatar

        That’s definitely the truth.

        I don’t think we’ll ever have open standards on cars. First, car manufacturers are notoriously proprietary. Second, modern vehicles are integrating more or less every function into the MFD, including ones that affect the drive.

        In principle I agree with you. Not having a big touchscreen LCD in a vehicle is no big deal for me because there are very few functions that car makers provide through the screen for which I can’t get better OEM versions. I like discrete, physical buttons for different functions. I just think we’re seeing the last generation of cars that have real buttons.

      • 0 avatar

        Software updates are very possible and happening. But you’re likely stuck with the hardware itself.

  • avatar

    An 1/8″ TRS aux jack and muscle memory work better than any of these systems, in my experience. An iPod’s interface is very simple and can be navigated without looking away from the road for longer than it would take to glance at the time.

    iPhones and handsfree bluetooth whatever present other issues, I guess. I get around those by not owning a smartphone or answering my dumbphone while I drive.

  • avatar

    I tried to use Ford Sync in a friends car… and failed. Rather than being ‘intuitive’, it just made me very angry. I’ve also tried using my iPod in a couple of hire cars, firstly a Dodge Caravan and secondly a Toyota Camry, and didn’t like either system very much.
    The easiest system for me? The 3.5″ audio jack setup in my Chevy Slobalt. It’s not complicated and I don’t have to fart around with car software that doesn’t work – I just use my iPod menus. It’s probably less distracting to change album on my iPod than it was in the ‘olden-days’ fiddling around, trying to extracting a cassette or CD, put it away safely and then swapping in another one.
    I’m surprised that manufacturers haven’t tried getting into bed with Apple. Imagine being a car manufacturer and having an ‘exclusive’ Apple designed media center in your car… now that would be a selling point.

  • avatar

    I’m disappointed. I thought this was going to be an introspective take on when TTAC itself will get a decent iDevice interface.

    That said, I’m not sure what the answer to the question is. The interface for the iOS devices is predicated on the idea that youre giving it your full attention. Auto ICE interfaces, if they’rewell done, assume that you can’t be paying full attention to them for routine functions. Those are two very different design goals.

    The best riff on this kind of thing is presenting them inline with the view of the road (like Honda’s binnacle in the recent Civic, or Mazda’s high mount screen, or the Prius, Suzuki Aerio and such) and a single, simple control like a big knob with, maybe, a back button). The idea is that you shouldn’t need to look away from the road, and whatever you need to do should be doable with a big, fat simpe knob with a thumb button to go “back” quickly should you misnavigate the menu.

  • avatar

    3.5″ audio jack? I thought that was a cup holder.

    • 0 avatar

      Ha – you caught that. Must be able to get 25.4 times the audio through that…

      In my Elantra, I get by with a small Bluetooth receiver plugged into the 3.5mm aux in (and powered by a cig lighter adapter).

      I have a spring-loaded suction-cup mount on the windshield that puts my smartphone just to the right of my rearview, and no wires hanging down. Pandora and stored music works pretty well, though I wish the phone’s screen were a bit bigger…

      Yes, navigating a huge album list is a distraction – you should make manageable playlists to keep the searching to a minimum.

  • avatar

    I am in my mid-20’s, I guess you could say I’m semi-successful (which doesn’t mean much compared to some of my peers….), or enough to of actually bought a new car recently.

    I do not own an IPOD. I HATE touchscreens. Nothing, nothing frustrates me more than a touch screen. My phone is the “old” style with actual buttons on it, on which I have texting disabled.

    Browsing for new cars I took a look at the Fiesta and Focus. Even the base radios, I couldn’t figure them out. I don’t that garbage in my vehicles even it was technically free. I think I’d pay more to not have it.

    • 0 avatar

      The base stereos in the Fiesta & Focus are truly awful. CR has a video showing what they mean by “complex” by demonstrating how to manually tune the radio using a couple of the newer menu-based units. They had to dive down 6 layers to be able to do it. (My salesman never did figure out how to do it while I was there.)

      The reason this is an epic fail is that I can do everything that I need to do in my car directly & immediately with normal buttons & knobs. They are easier to use, faster, more reliable, safer, and cost less than these new systems.

  • avatar

    I like the USB hookup on my Hyundai Santa Fe, for the most part. The only oddball setting is no ‘podcast’ menu. You either have to select Podcasts first before plugging it in, or put them in a Playlist. But once it’s going, I just use the steering wheel controls, and it’s never given me a problem. Now all they need to do is move the USB port into the glovebox.

    At least they offer one! I have an (older) Mazda 3 and I can’t believe they don’t have a USB input on the new models. They’re still pushing the 6 CD changer instead for some ridiculous amount of cash, like it’s 2001. Their stereos are so integrated into the dash you can’t easily replace the head unit either. They do offer an Ipod adapter but it costs more than the ipod touch itself and shows only folder numbers, not text–you’d have no idea what playlist you’re trying to switch to.

    Hyundai got it right for the most part. The stereo display is clean, large text, no stupid blinking lights or flying dolphins. :-)

  • avatar

    I’ve only had limited experience with the iPod interface in a Toyota Highlander, and would consider it pretty terrible. You could not browse through songs, because it won’t even show you what the song is until after it starts playing it, and it automatically starts playing whatever you land on. We couldn’t figure out how to browse through without autoplaying.

    Stereo 1/8″ jack inputs are much better – well, except for the terribly low-level preamping. Listen to the radio at ’20’, but to listen to the aux input, gotta turn it up to ’40’. And your poor ears if you forget to turn it down before changing back to radio or CD.

  • avatar

    First off, I’ll admit that this is just an educated guess. My theory is that, while designed with the ipod in mind, these interfaces need to work with a zillion other devices. (that part isn’t a guess. the number is exactly one zillion)

    Now, consider that more and more people are purchasing smartphones than stand alone mp3 players. And, while iPods constitute more than 70% of mp3 player sales, the iPhone constitutes less than 30% of smartphone sales. (source:

    Anyway, just my theory. However, I found a very workable solution to the whole problem. 7″ Galaxy tab with a suction cup mount that keeps the screen right next to the steering wheel, and an auxiliary jack. So not only am I not depending on a car maker to make a useable interface, but I even have the choice of any of a number of different media player apps, so i can choose the one that works best for me.

  • avatar

    My first experiences with Sync (not MyTouch) were all flawless, and perfect, Bluetooth and USB connections alike. Now those early days I was using a Zune, and Sync was based on Microsoft technology.

    I found MyTouch to be useless. Same issues as noted by Derek. Sync and re-sync, start to play to lose connection and/or sync. I’ve tried multiple devices, from iPods to in desperation when I was traveling different flavors of Zunes. The only thing I could get to work was a thumb drive with a flat file of MP3 tracks on it. Talk about less than optimal.

    The only way this will get better is if Apple would be more willing to share its connection information with the automakers and their stereos. The odds of Apple helping someone outside of their own ecosystem to provide seamless connectivity to their products is about equal to pigs being able to fly unassisted. The odds of Apple getting into the car audio, replacement head unit business is even slimmer.

    We’re boned – and I lay blame on OEMs who want to offer too much and make things to freakin’ complicated, and Apple who doesn’t like to share with others.

    • 0 avatar

      My experience with Sync (not MyTouch) has also been very good.

      Still, I find that the best way of shuffling through songs/playlists is via USB. That way, no streaming (or battery) issues with my iPhone, and shuffling forward and back from song to song is easily done via steering wheel button. The voice recognition is generally good, but spotty with the more difficult to pronounce names.

  • avatar

    The A2DP streaming in my Speed3 works simply and effectively. I drop my iPhone in a TomTom car kit, it bluetooth-pairs with the car and I can listen to my music, take phone calls and run Navigon all over the sonically-adequate Bose system. The music UI is primarily the iPhone screen itself, but skip forward/back/pause and mute are all controllable via the steering wheel or head-unit buttons. Works for me.

    • 0 avatar
      Japanese Buick

      +1, as I said below this is the answer — get Bluetooth streaming working well and don’t spend money or energy putting device specific integration, which apparently doesn’t work well anyway, into permanently installed car audio systems.

    • 0 avatar

      This is how I listen to music in my 4Runner as well. Holding the home button brings up voice command where I can tell it to shuffle, play a certain artist, or play a certain album. I can also access my contact list and tell the phone who to call. The steering wheel buttons can change the track and volume. It won’t pick an individual song title, though. Supposedly iOS5 will have even better voice command function where you can dictate texts, etc. Basically, my 4Runner headunit is just a path through which music flows.

      My 4Runner also has USB connection for iPods but it just doesn’t update quick enough. When you go from instantly scrolling through songs on the ipod/iphone to turning a dial and clicking on the songs, you notice how slow it is. The only advantage is that it will show what song is playing on the head unit display.

      • 0 avatar

        Voice Control is fine on iOS if all of your music is in one language. It’s next to useless otherwise.

        My current driving solution is a 3.5mm jack, connected through an iPod Shuffle remote. This emulates the headphone remote for iPhone/iPod Touches. There’s not a single one on the market that last more than a couple months, though. The Belkin and iLuv devices are all very shoddily built and the wires fray.

        Also, why is it that none of the major accessory manufacturers can put together a properly wired (D+/D- shorted) charge-only 12v USB charger? Almost every single USB car charger does this wrong.

      • 0 avatar

        Aren’t most USB chargers ~5v?

      • 0 avatar

        Yes, but the USB standard has a couple different current specifications.

        Your baseline bog standard USB data connection is a minimum ~5v 500mA.

        The USB standard also has a battery/device charging specification that allows for higher currents, up to 900mA on an active data connection and up to 1.8A while in charge-only (though Apple’s pushed their proprietary chargers up to 2.1A).

        A dedicated charging port can deliver 1.8A when the D+/D- pins are shorted, which allows your device to detect that it’s a DCP. A lot of modern phones come with a wall wart with a USB cable for your phone. If you look in the cable port for chargers, you’ll notice that the middle two pins are missing. These are the D pins. If these two pins are active, then your phone will not detect it as a dedicated charging port and will generally not accept more than 500mA over the connection.

        This wasn’t an issue before modern smartphones because 500mA used to be enough. Modern smartphones can easily draw more power than in regular usage, especially in a car. If you’re streaming radio through your phone and using a turn-by-turn GPS app, 500mA may or may not be enough to keep your battery from draining, depending on the model of your phone.

        The problem with most 12v car USB chargers is that almost none of them are wired correctly. The D pins are exposed, which means that most devices will never draw more than 500mA because it’s detected as a data port, even if the maker sells it as rated at 1A+. Sometimes, they’ll package a special charge-only cable which performs the same function that they should have done internally within the charger. (What data is there in your cigarette lighter?) Typically, it’s an Apple only cable and Android owners get screwed because the charger won’t/can’t charge their phone.

  • avatar

    On the Hyundais, the cable is designed to work with the iPod, NOT the iPhone. It works with the iPhone just fine as long as you don’t have the iPhone also paired up to the bluetooth. If the iPhone is paired to the bluetooth, you get a bunch of error messages when you try to use the iPod cable. I have a 2011 Sonata, and for some reason, the system worked perfectly every morning, but each night on the way home it gave me lots of problems. Once I deleted the iPhone from the bluetooth pairing and just used it as an iPod, it has worked perfectly ever since.

  • avatar

    I can’t understand why 3.5″ AUX jacks are standard issue in all new cars. Its simple, it works, and its cheap. The components to make it work have to be cheaper than the components used to make a CD changer and who buys CDs anymore?

    Of my three personal cars, the audio system I am most happy with is a $50 BOSS audio digital media receiver that I bought at Meijer for my 1995 GMC Sierra. It has a 3.5″ jack, a USB port, and a SD card slot. No CD and (obviously) no cassette.) I run my XM radio receiver through the jack and I loaded up 700 songs on a 4 gig SD card. The sound quality is fine and I have a lot less clutter than I did when I had CDs stashed all over the place.

  • avatar

    VW’s RNS-315, updated RNS-510 and Audi’s MMI interfaces all handle iPods very well.

  • avatar
    Japanese Buick

    I feel very strongly about this, and talking about iPod integration is the WRONG way to look at it!

    Car audio manufacturers need to stop working on iPod integration and simply work on getting their Bluetooth streaming working as smoothly as possible. That way they don’t lock into one platform’s algorithms and everyone’s smart phone or whatever device would work with the audio system, and everyone can use the interface they are already used to (i.e., the one on their device).

    Don’t forget, iPod isn’t even the most popular interface out there — Android outsells iPhone. And on Android there are a variety of music players available so that isn’t a standard interface.

    I have a $200 Sony head unit in my Miata which does flawless Bluetooth audio with my Android phone and my wife’s iPhone, and also with an older ipod I have. All they had to do was get the Bluetooth right and they were done! That’s the smart way to go.

    On the other hand, I put a $1K+ Pioneer navi/screen system in my wife’s Explorer. When she plugs in her iPhone it works well but bluetooth music streaming has never properly worked on any device. Dumb, simply dumb.

  • avatar

    I’ll stick with my Luddite solution of CDs and NPR (and I code computers for a living). Seriously, does anyone really need 10K songs available, even for a road trip?

    • 0 avatar
      Japanese Buick

      That’s what I have in my Lexus now. The main purpose of the 6 CDs in the changer is to get me through those quarterly NPR pledge drives.

      The one thing I wish my Lexus had (it’s a 1998 model) is good bluetooth phone/audio support. I use a blueant BT box clipped to the visor for the phone now, and it has its limitations.

      Other than that it’s a perfect car.

    • 0 avatar

      Off and on throughout the year, I drive a Camry around DFW. Camry radio reception absolutely sucks the sweat off a dead man’s balls. I end up streaming KERA through my phone to listen to NPR if I’m north of I-635.

      Plus, I can’t deal with pledge drives (I donated already, quit bother me) and I really can’t deal with Diane Rehm’s voice.

    • 0 avatar

      Off and on throughout the year, I drive a Camry around DFW. Camry radio reception absolutely sucks the sweat off a dead man’s balls. I end up streaming KERA through my phone to listen to NPR if I’m north of I-635.

      Plus, I can’t deal with pledge drives (I donated already, quit bother me) and I really can’t deal with Diane Rehm’s voice. For those moments, having access to a dozen NPR/PRI streams is invaluable.

  • avatar

    I’ve got an aftermarket head unit (JVC) in my car. It sort of syncs with my ipod, but it’s almost impossible to navigate. I find it much easier to either use playlists or shuffle… for road trips I use playlists a lot.

    I don’t really want to try to navigate through my ipod while I’m driving, I just want music. I usually start the music before I leave the parking lot, and don’t mess with it (except volume) until I’m stopped again.

  • avatar

    Sync works fine for my iPod and iPhone as well as having the 3.5 mm jack for the iPod Shuffle. I did take the extraordinary precautions of listening when the salesman delivered the car and then reading the manual.
    Having poorly indexed songs in iTunes may lead to problems maybe.

    I commend Hyundai for having a system that doesn’t want to play the “new Bon Iver album, or Burn After Rolling (the listenable mixtape made by limp-dick rapper Wiz Khalifa.)”

  • avatar

    The solution to this mess is simple … ask Apple to design all this horrible vehicle systems and user interfaces.

  • avatar

    I have been satisfied with an aftermarket interface (Isimple) into my Acura TSX audio system. It provides the line-level input and some control interfacing. The steering wheel controls (volume/track) can operate the iPod. Some of the radio headend controls can do further operations with the iPod. An alternate mode gives all control back to the iPod. I guess that I am relatively satisfied because I have lower expectations since my car has no screen/touchscreen capability. This system also provides operating/charging voltage to the iPod – using bluetooth means the iPod is running on battery with all its limitations on runtime.

  • avatar

    IMHO – the best ipod car interface is Nissan/Infiniti. Easy to navigate through playlists and folders, you can use the controls on the wheel. Not bad all around.

  • avatar

    Scion/pioneer made a great ipod interface back when the brand was formed. The ipod plays the music which is delivered through the “audio out” pins in it’s 30 pin connector. The radio displays the song information and controls the ipod. The interface is very intuitive because one of the knobs mimics apple’s clickwheel. Nothing needs to be downloaded by the head unit so there is no lag and all of the menus are presented as if you were selecting them on the ipod(because you are).

  • avatar

    Derek –

    I don’t know what you are doing to have all of these problems with Sync. Most people who have had experience with the system agree that it’s one of the easiest and more reliable to use on the market (MyFord Touch unfortunately excluded from that, but the core Sync functionality and voice commands inside of MyFord Touch should still work flawlessly as long as the system you have has a stable software install).

    I have paired hundreds of phones and MP3 players to every variety Ford’s Sync system, and very very rarely have I run into any difficulties, however –

    – Some phones won’t pair for either bluetooth for calls or audio streaming. The Bluetooth spec has a lot of variation, and is implemented in different ways in various devices. I’ve never had any trouble with any iPhone or most Android-based devices. Pantech brand phones almost never work well with it, and certain older Blackberry devices have problems.

    – If you are going to connect an iPod or iPhone via USB you need to use the official Apple cable that came with the device. I don’t know why, but aftermarket cables seem to cause problems. If you have a lot of music on your device you will have to wait a few minutes the first time you connect it so that everything can be indexed.

    – The menu-based controls are a bit confusing, but you shouldn’t be using them much anyway. The voice recognition is nearly perfect and is much, much, faster. Plug in your device, say ‘USB’ then tell it what you want it to play by album, artist, or track.

    – Though the voice recognition works very well, it can only recognize the command if you give the correct song title, album name, or artist name the way it’s listed on your device. Saying ‘Play track I’ll do anything for Love’ might not work if the song is listed on your device as ‘I’ll do anything for love (but I won’t do that)’.

    Ford has a YouTube channel set up under SyncMyRide (click to see it) that has videos demonstrating how to use the features. There are shortcuts that bypass some of the steps they use to make use quicker once you get a handle on the system, but it’s a good place to start if you’ve been having trouble.

    • 0 avatar

      I had a Ford PR rep suggest once that I simply received a “dud” unit, which infuriated me to no end. I will concede that SYNC has gotten incrementally better, with the F-150 Ecoboost I drove in May only screwing up once. However the lack of a “Back” button forced me to go through layer upon layer of menu just to change songs in Playlist mode, which I find unacceptable while driving.

      We are all fairly savvy when it comes to the operation of vehicles and their basic functions, but I’m 22 and these features are supposed to be targeted at my peers, who aren’t always so savvy.

      We expect total reliability and ease of use from a vehicle’s mechanical functions, so why not telematics? Nerds can tout various advanced features all they want, but if it doesn’t work the first time, every time, the general populace will have a shit fit. It may be a crude, Philistine view to adopt, but it’s the one that will get consumer dollars.

      • 0 avatar

        I don’t use playlists on my iPhone personally (I generally just launch the Pandora app and turn on bluetooth audio streaming and let it run) but I’m sure there has to be a way to switch songs inside of a playlist without going through tons of menus.

        Off the top of my head just hitting the ‘next/previous’ track buttons on the steering wheel should skip to the next or previous song in the playlist, and holding down the next/previous track buttons should quick-scroll through the songs in the playlist. I’ll have to actually build a playlist and try that out tomorrow though to double check. You can always select a different playlist/album/track etc by just hitting the voice button and saying ‘Play track/album/playlist/artist *whatever*’.

        I’m with you that we should expect greater compatibility and ease of use with in-car electronics in general, but it’s a bit different than the mechanical side of the car. The manufacturer can build a system that works with devices that meet industry standards, and even one that works with devices that operate outside of industry standards but are common enough to warrant support, but with hundreds if not thousands of different media players and phones on the market and all of them adhering to various interoperability specs to differing degrees, it’s likely flat out impossible for anyone to make a system that’s 100% foolproof on the first time with any device no matter what you throw at it.

        Also, just to reiterate something I mentioned in response to one of Michael’s commends above, most customers will have the chance at vehicle delivery to have these features thoroughly explained and demonstrated so that they leave the dealership with an understanding of how to get it to do what they want it to do. Someone for whom a press car just shows up at the doorstep doesn’t have that chance. Ford has a push right now for all dealerships to have monthly Sync/MyFord Touch classes or seminars so any customers having difficulty can come in and have someone sit down with them and work out the issues. We’ve had a couple so far and they’ve been a success, but my coworkers are also always available to anyone who has purchased a car from us and who wants to stop by anytime for a refresher.

      • 0 avatar

        As a followup –

        I didn’t feel like dealing with iTunes, so I made a few playlists using Windows Media Player and saved them (along with the MP3s) to a thumb drive to test.

        Using the ‘next/previous track’ buttons on the steering wheel does in fact skip through songs in a playlist, just as if the playlist were an album. In fact, if you use the ‘Play Album *album name*’ command, it behaves just like a normal album through Sync, the track skip buttons skip tracks backward and forward the same as in play all mode or in a playlist, just with the predetermined set of tracks to go through based on your command. While playing a playlist I could also give the ‘Play track *song title*’ command if I just really wanted to hear a particular tune and not deal with searching through with the track skip buttons.

        Halfway through my testing I was called away, but when I came back, turned the car back on, and reinserted my USB stick, as soon as I gave the ‘USB’ command, it picked up in the playlist I have been playing previously just where I left off.

        If you learn the basic voice commands Sync works with MP3 players or USB sticks full of files just like you would logically expect it to.

  • avatar

    I wonder if the issue isn’t with the files on the IPod themselves. I imagine that all 10,000 of your songs aren’t purchased directly from ITunes, and I also imagine not all are “official” copies. I have also seen issues with files burned from CD’s, whether legitimate copies or not, where some IPod interface systems have trouble recognizing the songs. It can have a lot of different causes from the programs used to create the files, the type of file being imported to the IPod (MP3, VLC, raw, FLAC and hundreds of others), to file settings (bit rate, etc…) having trouble translating to the IPod or interface system correctly. The only way to guarantee 100% compatibility would be to buy all your songs from ITunes which of course Apple would love. The other option is to figure out what songs or albums are causing problems and try to recreate the files using other software or formats and figure out what combinatons work to provide most reliable, usful results.

  • avatar

    The answer is aftermarket, however even those options aren’t perfect. The trend towards to double DIN touchscreens is a major pain.

    My current Pioneer deck is pretty good, you can select and scroll thru your lists just like on the iPod itself (its just slow with a only a few lines of data on screen) or switch modes and use the iPod/iPhone to do all the controlling via its interface. JVC also has this option which they call “hand mode” vs “head mode”… no joke. Alpine has a pretty decent iPod control system as well.

    The two big issues here are: 1) touch screens SUCK in a vehicle since your eyes must stay on the road. And 2) the constant debate of form vs function when it comes to how many buttons you need on the radio. You can either have a hundred little buttons all doing one specific function – which is ugly, but nice once you learn them all by feel alone. Or have only a few buttons which looks nice but forces you to hold, turn, push or slide to access additional commands.

    I currently have a Pioneer deck that has all of three buttons and its HORRIBLE. You must step thru a menu just to change stations or pause – who thought that was a good idea? I plan on swapping it out for an Alpine unit which has the good old six presets at the bottom, this way I can change Sirius channels quickly. These buttons also function to break your playlist in sections, then you can skip to ZZ Top without have to scroll for hours.

    The only factory system I’ve played with is my brother’s Infiniti G37… and as others mentioned, it works really well.

  • avatar
    Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

    The iPod/iPhone integration in my Volt works reasonably well: a USB port in the armrest cubby takes an iPod USB cable, and once it’s connected it registers as an iPod and is navigable thru the 7″ center stack screen the same way an attached USB memory key or hard drive would be, though it does support playlists, genre, artist, etc.

    HOWEVER, it will not allow you to copy its contents (even non-m4p!) to the internal 30GB HDD, which is lame, and album art display would be nice.

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      That’s a shame: does it allow for any sort of music/media file transfer via the USB port, or are you forced to manually rip via the CD slot? One major problem I can foresee is the vehicle’s drive being unable to read certain borderline discs. I currently have 4 small label pressed CDs which play normally in any Red Book player, but could not be properly read by my home jukebox and my current primary computer’s drive. I was forced to use EAC and a 1:1 burn on Memorex Blacks to enable a proper transcription.

  • avatar

    I see two good options.

    1) Have voice controls on future ipods. Really good voice controls, like google has on Android phones. Then you just tell your ipod what you want in plain language, such as…

    Play U2
    Play Alternative Rock
    Play Diggnation podcast (then it prompts you for which one, maybe reading the list of what you have, maybe even reading the description)

    Perhaps it could be like XBox kinnect where you just address it at any time “iPod: Play U2”, or perhaps there should be a button you hold down or double clikc while speaking

    2) Car makers should just give up and sell docks and adapters for popular devices. You just plug it into the dash and control it from there. This would be especially cool with a tablet. You could run GPS and all sorts of trip computer applications that connect with the car.

    The only other thing I could think of is an eye-controlled HUD.

    Also, you should not be limited to the dock. You should be able to use a jack, USB, or stream with bluetooth as well.

  • avatar

    It’s Apple that’s the problem. There is a very good standard for In Car Infotainment connections and it’s called “MirrorLink”
    Developed by the Car Connectivity Consortium (CCC)

    It’s up to Apple to quit being closed and proprietary for the sake of being “Apple” and just accept that every car-maker can’t create unique infotainment systems for all possible gadget out there.

  • avatar

    I sold my Mustang GT this week. One of the things I won’t miss (Besides the payments and insurance rates) is SYNC. SYNC blows. I won’t miss the way it took twenty minutes to “index” my music on my old iPod every time I added new songs. Or how it would never stop “indexing” my music when I tried plugging in my iPhone – the voice commands never worked. Or how it refused to download my address book after I upgraded to an iPhone 4 – I was never able to use voice commands to make calls again. Or how the system would have a complete brain fart and not recognize that a fully-functional mP3 player was plugged in and default back to the radio every time I pushed the “AUX” button. Admittedly, the Bluetooth streaming worked pretty well, but then I had to futz with the phone every time I wanted to change playlists, etc…defeating the purpose of having a built in interface.

    Nothing is ever perfect, and SYNC sucking is most certainly not the reason why I sold the car. But it’s a major reason why I won’t buy another Ford.

    Today, my trusty old Civic commuter is my only car. Years ago, I swapped out the factory tape deck for a n Alpine CD player. But last year, I put the factory unit back in so I can use a cassette adapter to play my iPhone/iPod. And, honestly, it works well enough. Now that the car’s back to full-time duty, I’ll probably spring for a new aftermarket deck with an aux jack/USB, but it won’t be anything fancy because it just isn’t worth it.

  • avatar

    Never had the slightest problem with my MB Comand integration…and as my iPod is a 8O Gig model and filled with “classics”, I placed it in the arm rest in the first week I owned the car and took it out when I had to sell my beloved SLK (new music was burned in .mp3 on DVDs)… Now I have a VW, and I replaced the double din sound system by a din Pioneer system my music goes now on 16 Gigs mosKeyto keys from Lacie… they are tiny and I have plenty of music on the 3 keys that are in the car so…
    iPod integration doesn’t matter really for me…

    I also have my iPhone4(used for nav too)on my dash, thanks to ProClip and TomTom holder, that works perfectly with the bluetooth.

  • avatar

    You know what? The system that comes on Toyota’s models that offer the Bluetooth Audio streaming works great! The new toyotas are supposed to have this offered on almost every model. But what is already established works great. Once the iDevice has been sync’d you can also control it from the radio or the audio controls on the steering wheel. Which makes it much safer than playing with the device while driving. I have not tried the Entune system, yet, however if it works similarly, then there shouldn’t be any problems.

  • avatar

    Nothing spoils the conversation like having your ambient rock or gangsta rap interrupted by Katy Perry or Lady Gaga.

    I’d rather listen to sports radio than any of those four choices. I suppose that I should like “ambient”, being one of those Deadheads who didn’t hit the restrooms during Drums/Space, but I find it boring. I think I played the MM&W album that I bought maybe twice.

  • avatar

    I’m with Japanesebuick. shuffled streaming which allows you to skip forward, through bluetooth suits me fine.

  • avatar

    The $100 Kenwood head units in both my cars work with an iPod far better than any OEM monstrosity. Sync sucks, Hyundai requires a proprietary $50 “USB” cable (if it’s proprietary, it’s not USB), and the one in the Charger I had was the best of a bad lot. Touch screens in cars are bad juju. You MUST take your eyes off the road. The little remote that came with the Kenwoods ? No eyes needed, just tactual response.

  • avatar
    Darth Lefty

    2011 Subaru here (see a prior Sanjeev column) and I have to say the Bluetooth and USB controllers both work like crap unless you preempt the features with the iPhone itself, which works fine. It seems like it was designed with iPods and memory sticks and flip phones in mind, it’s not ready for the app phone era. The voice command system requires that you set up its own separate phone book, which is too much work to bother with.

  • avatar

    Wish I’d seen this post sooner but hopefully the internet will take my $0.02. I’m thinking we will see decent interfaces when more manufacturers start standardizing and simplifying their interface across brands. Several OEMs are starting to fit all of their cars with a MOST bus ( for audio/nav/etc. If they can agree on a standard wired connector, larger electronics companies may feel its worth it to put some more effort into a product that works well instead of the myriad of fly-by-night ipod adapter companies that populate amazon and ebay (this coming from someone who’s had a few thoughts about starting one of said companies). Bluetooth seems convenient but is difficult to get right. Your music data gets wrapped and unwrapped FIVE TIMES in a single transfer. The next big hurdle is having an interface that can scan thousands of songs without you looking at it. Ipods are so easy to use because you see everything that is happening. You just can’t have that in a car. If you give up your desire to find an exact song right this second, you’ll probably see something that works much better with steering wheel controls while focusing on the road.

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      Thank you very much for that link: hammering out standards like that is preferable to any one company’s providing the One True Interface and associated licensing tyranny. I hope it’s as far seeing as the original Ethernet specification: calling for 10Mb/sec when everyone was still working w/300bps acoustic modems displayed a level of foresight few possess.

  • avatar

    Even aftermarket head units can be a fail, especially the cheaper units with less than 24 bit processors when playing music from a USB thumb drive. I know as I tried out some at my local audios store back in the spring.

    Also, not all support playlist files and it seems that the 2010 Hyundai Elantra doesn’t.

    The FIAT 500’s Blue and Me does (both variants too) and supports both MP3 and WMA audio but so far, no word if it actually supports WMA lossless, which would be great as it will support track listings where as WAV files don’t and thus have near CD quality audio to listen to.

    And what confuses the less than tech savvy is poor instructions on how to structure your files on a USB drive, and FIAT is notorious with this and they like a simple 2 layer nesting if at all possible and you simply drag and drop the files onto the drive and don’t use sync. Beyond that, their instructions are rather vague at best.

    My biggest issue is ensuring that my CD’s remain in their proper order when converted to a digital file as I made that way for a reason and having the ability maintain that functionality on a thumb drive and to maintain this with multiple CD sets I’ve made whereas the parent file is the main base title, the sub files within that parent file are the individual CD’s as files and have it so I can just let it go to the main folder and then play all that’s within it, including all sub folders in order.

    I tend to listen to CD’s almost exclusively and that’s especially true when on road trips.

    Seems to me that when you have an aftermarket head unit that has less than a 24 bit processor, your file track order won’t necessarily remain as you have it and that’s another problem, getting around the alpha/numeric file order setup to maintain the original track order of a particular CD, period.

  • avatar

    I haven’t had an opportunity to experience SYNC in person, but I simply refuse to buy anything created by Microsoft in a car.

    After getting burned with that piece of crap Vista system on a laptop a few years ago they’ve just blown my business. I recently paid more money to “upgrade” that POS to Windows 7 because I liked the ultralight Sony design only to have it tell me during the install that it wasn’t compatible to allow me to save my old files and programs when I upgraded, despite this option clearly being spelled out on the box and in the installation menu when I loaded the CD. Anyway, the last thing I want to worry about is some crap Microsoft product taking down my car or forcing me to pay to “upgrade” their mistakes.

    It reminds me of that old joke email that used to go around about the top ten things that would happen if Microsoft made a car. I think the top of the list was that intermittently the car would just shut off and require you to pull over and “reboot” before you could drive again. This is still way too close to reality with MSFT stuff. Say what you will about Apple, but they just work and do what you need them to.

    With Vista, my MS Word and Excel files weren’t compatible with my workmate’s XP versions when I saved them in compatibility mode. Strangely, I could open them on my wife’s iMAC, resave them, email them, and then they would work on XP. Bottom line, no way am I paying 2-3x the cost of a new laptop just for a fancy phone interface in my car.

    My VW golf has a separate Bluetooth phone interface built in that works well (though it was a pricey option that they all had here in CA where hand-free driving is the barely-enforced law) and a simple aux jack with a long cord allows me to mount my phone where I an easily see it while I’m driving to change my music or switch my phone to Pandora.

  • avatar

    I hate iPhones and iPods for one simple reason… iTunes. It sucks, and therefore I refuse to use it. I dont care what the market says, the market is wrong, they buy into the Apple fashion statement when standard MP3 players are clearly the better technology. iTunes has become a tool of the music industry to get you to pay extra money for content.

    I do own an iPod, only because my VW has an iPod dock built in. I have it synced with my daughters laptop/iTunes, she has my “car playlist” that I update like twice a year. I dont have 10k songs, I just like some personal driving music available when I am in the mood. My real audio/video collection is on a hard drive where I can control the files my way, and play them on any device I choose.

    So therefore I could care less about iPod/iPhone integration. What I LOVE is the dock my car came with. No dangling cables, no device rattling around the cupholder, I slide it in the doc and its locked in, charged and connected. Now what they need to do is make docs for other smartphones and devices and standardize it. Something like a universal socket, with interchangeable docks for whatever device you want to hold/use. It could connect audio and phone functions, give up a cupholder for it, whatever.

    For what its worth, my base VW radio with iPod dock works ok, no lag, but no real screen data either. You can select playlists or random songs, move up or down through the list. Sucks if you have a lot of music, but works fine for me. No touchscreen either!!

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    One point of concern I have for many of these built-in systems is what the automaker intends to do for its end-of-life period. Once a particular build has been finalized/the final equipped vehicles sold/the system has passed that 5 year support mandate, what happens next? The huge advantage the mobile electronics aftermarket has enjoyed over every OEM offering has been the availability of continuous upgrades and updates, even if it’s merely through direct hardware swaps. Systems which are as tightly integrated with the automobile’s electronics and dashboard structure as these will not be especially easy to remove or replace. Perhaps releasing the source code would be an option, with the last 2 builds remaining available in perpetuity for a future owner to reference as a restoration or reset from a bad custom build. Considering many of these vehicles and their electronics are going to be around for decades, a basic legacy support structure needs to be put in place.

    The aftermarket is already responding with their own Android and iOS offerings. These hold far greater promise for long term support and viability as the aftermarket is vehicle-agnostic and already has experience in providing downloadable firmware upgrades.

  • avatar

    I bought a 2011 Santa Fe Limited in April. I test drove 9 cars before buying it. One of my tests was iPod integration. If it’s that important, and it is, you have to test for it. This test alone took the Subaru Outback off my list (terrible integration, none of the salespersons at the dealership could get the system to work on any car).

    I finally opted for the Santa Fe because of its fairly primitive interface (two button navigation, integration with steering wheel controls). It feels like a first generation iPod. Admittedly, when you have 10000 songs on your iPod, turning that little nob for minutes on end can be a pain, but at least you don’t have to look at the screen continuously. Personnaly, I can’t wait for Apple to come up with its own car interface.

  • avatar

    In 2006 Scion offered a Standardized propriatary iPod interface WITH cable in their models. Even though it later wouldn’t be compatible with the newer gen models of iPhones and iTouches (unless you had the pin adaptor, aka “passport”) the integration worked exceptionally well. changing songs, playlist support, along with variant text read out of title, song, track etc. via integration with the steering wheel audio OR the radio controls. Alas my 2005 model didn’t have this. The newer models now have the USB interface, instead of the previous cable, so it wouldn’t matter which device you had, as long as it has it’s USB cable. And the integration is still the same! Even the Navigation upgrade is very simple and easy to use. As I posted earlier, the USB works the same way, just as easily and includes bluetooth, much like the more expensive toyota models. When I get the opportunity to test the Entune system, I really hope it basically stays the same. But I know that Apps are the new thing. So I hope it doesn’t get botched. Regarding the Scions, I guess it’s because Pioneer and Alpine designs the radios for them.

  • avatar

    This has been driving me insane for a long time now. I get a new car to drive every week for review, and there have only been a couple that I can even tolerate.

    Personally, I don’t need a ton of integration – give me a standard auxiliary jack and I’m good – I can hook up any MP3 player to it and control it from an interface I’m familiar with. Need more? Just a USB port could work too.

    But even those with an iPod integration barely work – many times a connection will fail when trying to hook up an iPhone – the most basic of operations, and the car can’t handle it. And I’m talking about a $90k Audi A8, too.

    The few that do actually play music properly when hooked up have a terrible interface, as you mention. Someone please get it right…

  • avatar

    ok I had the opoportunity to play with Toyota’s Entune system. And, in my opinion, it a much more user friendly system compared to Ford’s Sync. Right now there are only a couple of apps, Bing and Pandora Radio (7″Navigation system gets opent table, iheartradio and another I can’t remember, sorry.) that will be available, but more coming. but the system does come with 5 standard services: map, fuel prices, sports, traffic, stocks and weather. They work very well. And the interface is very simple and easy to use. the only problem you might have is with the connectivity. Your connection of your phone’s data capability is what determine’s the effectiveness of these systems. I have an apple iPhone 3GS from AT&T. I have no problems. I even won the training challenge at corporate. And you can still just stream via bluetooth, your music on your device. Or just plug it in to the USB drive. If you have not used this system on a Toyota before, or never tried, I’ll tell you now. It has always been the easiest system to use, in my 8 years of selling cars at Rockland Toyota Scion.

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