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Article: The iPod in Your Car

by on August 3, 2008

If you go buy a new car, chances are that the built-in stereo system will have an auxiliary input or even an iPod-specific hookup. A few years back, this capability was limited only towards higher-end audio systems found primarily on luxury cars, but with the iPod slowly becoming the main game in town for portable audio, and satellite radio becoming a popular accessory, expandable audio systems became the norm. However, what is one supposed to do if their car is a bit…ahem…older?

This isn’t a how-to article by any means, but just questioning what’s available on the market today. There will be readers out there who would just say “go get a new car” or “wait until you get a new one”, but there plenty of people out there with older cars that still have plenty of life in them (Honda, Toyota, Subaru come to mind), where a model that was made about 10 years ago will most likely have a cassette deck.

CD players were still $500+ options (trust me, I was there), and fortunately, this is a bit of an advantage. In most cases, you can grab a cheap cassette adapter and go nuts (products like the Griffin AutoPilot use the higher-quality line-level output and even charge the iPod). However, you still have the weaker-sound and wires everywhere. Plus, many car stereos eject the cassette when you turn off the car, so you have to always pop it back in.

These kinds of stereos also have another advantage—most that allowed an add-on CD player or CD changer have a jack in the back and controls on the radio for such device. A few companies make adapters that trick the car stereo into thinking your iPod is a huge CD changer. Unfortunately, many of these adapters are pretty expensive, especially compared to the rather-capable “low-end” car stereos out there.

The FM transmitter is another option for the occasional usage, but that’s more of a quick-fix, rather than true iPod integration. On cars where you only have a radio and CD player, this is the only game in town.

Finally, there’s the most drastic option—replace the stereo with one that features iPod integration or an auxiliary input at the very least. A CD player is often included, as is supposedly better sound than most stock units. Crutchfield even includes all the hardware and step-by-step instructions to make this change. Unfortunately, a lot of aftermarket stereos are gaudy and don’t match the car’s interior very well. Also, it seems like the iPod integration is more of a “right now” implementation. I realize that Apple may completely reinvent the iPod and break some compatibility, but I think it should be expected that all manufacturers offer compatibility with at least all of the iPods that charge over USB and are both the “classic” design and the touchscreen variety. Also, you should be able to turn over control to the iPod where the Dock Connector merely serves as a way to carry audio and charge the iPod.

I guess that this last thing is the most permanent in a way, but is a double-edged sword. You get total iPod integration, no wire mess (you can put your iPod in the glovebox or center console), and in many cases the other capabilities are an upgrade. The downside is that that if future iPods were to be completely different and Apple wouldn’t respect prior “control” signals on the Dock Connector, you’re stuck using the auxiliary input. I think there should be some sort of attempt to future-proof car stereos with iPod integration, since they’re not something you’d easily replace every few years like an iPod dock in your home.

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