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  #1  
Old 08-05-2004, 01:38 PM
jben jben is offline
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Apple iPod/BMW integration article in WSJ

Following article from today's Wall Street Journal. Seems consistent with many Bimmerfest comments.

Mating iPod and BMW
Is a Brilliant Concept,
But First Try Is Crude
August 5, 2004; Page B1

It sometimes seems like the whole world is plugged into Apple Computer's iPod digital music players. You see the iPod's distinctive white earbuds on the street, and in buses, trains and planes. But there's one place in America where the iPod has difficulty going: the automobile.

People do use iPods in cars, of course. But it's a hassle, because car makers have designed their audio systems to be closed and inhospitable to add-on devices. You have to find some way to position the music player; some way to charge its battery; and, most important of all, some way to transmit its sound through the car's audio system. (Driving a car while wearing earbuds is, of course, dangerous and possibly illegal.)

And even if you do all that, you're usually left with substandard sound quality, and a jumble of ugly wires and adapters in view. Worse, you're forced to take your eyes off the road every time you need to manipulate the iPod to pause or change a song.

Now, Apple has joined forces with the German luxury car maker BMW to solve this problem. The two companies have come up with an integrated system for plugging an iPod into a BMW and streaming its music through the car's audio system. It's called the BMW iPod Adapter, and is available for $149, plus installation costs, on any 2002-2004 BMW 3 Series model, Z4 Roadster, or X3 and X5 SUVs. Some specific BMW configurations can't use the adapter.

BMW and Apple aren't just any two companies. They are widely imitated corporate icons, known far and wide for their design and engineering skills. So, you'd think their joint effort at mating the iPod and the car would be a brilliant, smashing success. But you'd be wrong.

I've been testing the system in a $54,000 BMW 330Ci convertible, lent to me for a few days by BMW. I have tried several different iPods in the car, including a brand-new, fourth-generation model. My conclusion: The BMW iPod adapter works, but in a pretty crude way that will likely leave the iPod cult hungering for more. It's a decent first step, but that's all.

The adapter takes the form of a white iPod cable that protrudes from the inside wall of the glove compartment. You just plug in your iPod (it has to be a newer model that uses the so-called dock connector) and close the glove box door. From then on, you can control the device from the dashboard audio dials and buttons, or the audio control buttons on the steering wheel.

You can play the songs in order, or shuffle them. You can skip or repeat tracks. Volume and audio-quality settings are changed by the normal controls on the car's audio system. The first five radio-station buttons in the car are used to call up five iPod playlists, and the sixth calls up the whole iPod library for playback.

In my tests, tooling around the Maryland countryside on sunny days with the top down, the system worked pretty well, albeit with a few flaky moments. Sound quality was excellent, and I was able to blast out artists from Van Halen to Bonnie Raitt at the unsuspecting cows and horses along the way.

A couple of times, in several days of tests, I'd start the car and the system would freeze up. I had to switch to a different playlist to jolt the iPod into action. And once, when I increased the volume, it suddenly skipped a song.

Still, the BMW setup was far less distracting and ugly than my normal system: an iPod stuck to the dashboard with Velcro, plugged into an audio jack with a Radio Shack cable, and connected to my cigarette lighter for juice.

But the BMW adapter is still a disappointment because of the limitations it imposes on the normal use of the iPod. When you play a song, you lose all of the visual information the iPod displays about the song's title, artist and album. All you see on the car's audio display are arbitrary track numbers. And the only playlists the system can handle are special ones you have to set up and name "BMW1" through "BMW5."

That's because the BMW adapter does nothing but trick the car's audio system into thinking that the iPod is a giant CD changer. Each playlist, and even the whole song library, is treated as a huge CD, and tracks are identified on the radio's display as something like "CD 6-47."

If you don't own or can't afford a BMW, there are dozens of alternate gadgets on the market for hooking up an iPod to a car. In addition to numerous mounts and battery chargers, there are two main ways to pump the iPod sound through the car's speakers. One is the cassette adapter, but it offers impaired sound quality and doesn't work on most newer cars. The other is the FM transmitter, which beams the music through a vacant frequency on the radio. But in my tests, in and around big cities, these transmitters too often encountered static and competing broadcasts.

Alpine, the big car audio company, will soon offer its own new iPod adapter that will actually display the song information on the iPod. But it will, in most cases, require users to install a whole new radio.

For all its limitations, the BMW adapter is a welcome development. But it's frustrating that the car industry can't do better.

Write to Walter S. Mossberg at mossberg@wsj.com
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  #2  
Old 08-05-2004, 02:03 PM
ChosenGSR ChosenGSR is offline
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  #3  
Old 08-06-2004, 12:03 AM
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FenPhen FenPhen is offline
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Not the best solution, but if you have an iRiver player, you get an inline remote.

While not as nice as having the head unit be able to do everything, I don't lose any functionality on my player at all. With the aux-in adapter and aux flashlight power adapter, I got all the connector cables hidden in the glove box, and the back-lit remote sitting quietly on the ashtray lid in front of the gear shifter, with the wire snaking out of the glove box.



This has the added benefit of allowing the passenger to mess around with the player using its full interface.
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Old 08-06-2004, 08:55 PM
shabbaman shabbaman is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ChosenGSR
ICELINK
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  #5  
Old 08-06-2004, 09:54 PM
bmw325 bmw325 is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by shabbaman
Icelink is definitely better. BUt, I really do agree w/ the reviewer that song/playlist info should be displayed on the head unit. I can't wait till Dension and/or BMW get their acts together and implement this feature.
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