iPod Compatible OEM Car Stereos - Why Just iPod?

I went test driving a couple Audi’s with a friend last week and was left wondering why the very nice Bang and Olufsen sound and navigation systems are only iPod compatible. I’ve shopped around and I couldn’t find a single Auto maker who’s system is universally compatible, with the notable exception of Microsoft’s Sync which some Fords carry. A little browsing indicates that while other after market manufacturers like Alpine promote iPod compatibility they do include USB ports so they can function with other brands of MP3 player. It seems like a no-brainer to make your technology usable with as many products as possible, especially for Auto makers who can’t afford to Balkanize their customer base.

So what gives? Does Apple have some exclusive rights agreement with the Auto makers? Does Microsoft Sync have some type of patent on that type of product preventing other car makers from incorporating it? Are the companies simply stupid and assuming that Apple’s marketshare so broad and immovable that it’s not worth developing?

It baffles me that I could buy a $60K Audi S5 and not be able to navigate my Zune with it.

If you replace “stupid” with “practical” and “assuming” with “know”, the answer is yes.

I wonder about the premise. What kind of interface are the iPod-only guys providing?

I have a 2008 Toyota Solara with a stereo mini-jack. I have a stereo mini-plug-to-plug cable and use it with my iPod but I could also use it with a Zune, my laptop, or any device at all with a headphone jack. That seems so much easier than providing a proprietary interface.

Very helpful. :rolleyes:

Considering Apple has somewhere around 70% of the market you are presuming that Automakers are willing to concede the other 30%. It appears that after market manufactures (who typically also produce the OEM versions without the branding) see a benefit in supporting products other than Apples.

Considering this is GQ, do you have anything substantive to offer to the question or are you just here the threadshit?

Most modern car audio systems have gone past the aux audio jack like your Solara uses. They typically include it as a fall back, the Audi’s do, but they’ve taken to incorporating the iPod menu functions into the audio head unit (almost always in concert with the large, HD Nav system’s screen) allowing you to browse your music by artist, album, playlist etc. through the steering wheel controls and UI controls (usually touch screen or joystick based). All these functions are basic MP3 tagging so there’s nothing proprietary about them, the only road block is the file systems and proprietary connectors they tend to use.

I’m guessing because this iPod interface is very much more in-depth than a simple audio jack would be. An audio jack requires you to still fiddle with your iPod/MP3 player to change songs and see what is playing. A proprietary jack allows you to navigate your iPod and view the songs on your head unit. It’s a lot more convenient, and much safer, to plug the iPod in and just leave it alone, hitting the buttons on your head unit for all the stuff you need.

Many non-iPod players don’t even have an interface to do this properly, and the ones that do are in such the minority that they’re not worth supporting.

You posted this as I was typing my reply.

I think you misunderstand how the iPod file structure works… it is not a simple folder full of MP3 that the iPod navigates around using MP3 tags. Some MP3 players do that, some don’t, and many (including iPod) are proprietary. Supporting them all is a huge pain in the butt, not to mention the small road block of proprietary connectors. Who want’s 10 connectors on your dashboard, or stupid adapter cables? Especially when 75% of people will only need 1.

I fully understand. I referenced the files systems in the section you quoted as a matter of fact. However, these filesystems, with the exception of the iPod, are all basic Windows filesystems. There’s nothing tricky to it. It’s actually the Apple version that takes the effort to integrate. Most of these audio systems are able to play MP3 data CD-Rs which use a basic FAT filesystem. Any USB thumb drive or USB based flash player will use the same. There’s zero difference.

You are mistakenly presuming that the interface you see on the MP3 players display somehow is related to the filesystem beneath it. It’s not, it is simply a software interface in the same way iTunes, Zune, Winamp, RealPlayer and MediaMonkey are interfaces that all play MP3s stored in your NTFS filesystem on your PC.

All these MP3 players use USB cables to connect to your PC. There’s no reason for them to need to include anything besides a USB interface in the head unit. For this reason I’m asking if there’s some contractual or legal reason that they seem to instead rely on co-opting the proprietary iPod connector instead of using a plain old USB that your iPod already comes with and adapter for.

How was that a threadshit? It addressed your question directly, and in addition called you out on the underlying assumption in it (that car companies made this decision out of stupidity rather than as a considered choice). Questioning a premise of a GC is not a threadshit.

As far as your last question goes, yes, I believe the car companies are perfectly OK with one device servicing 70+% of the market and not having to deal with the other devices that make up a few % of that market each. You’re clearly upset that your Zune is being ignored by them; why not take your complaint to the car maker involved? Their behaviour will not change unless they feel market pressure.

Are you missing the part where this is GQ? In what way does his Apple pimping qualify as a factual answer? I’m willing to accept the fact that there’s no concrete reason and that car makers are simply ignorant of the technology or interested only in supporting the most popular thing for the sake of marketability. However, his just implying that Apple is dominant isn’t a reasoned answer. And the snark he used makes it threadshitting in this forum, IMHO. Were it IMHO or the Pit, that’s a different story.

I would like to send them a complaint or a suggestion. However, I’m starting this thread in an attempt to research the issue. I’d like to know where I’m speaking from. I can’t determine if it’s a Audi decision or a Bang and Olufsen decision. I’d like to know if there’s a cobranding thing going on and Apple is leveraging their market share in order to limit competition. Or if Microsoft is being protectionist in refusing to allow Zunes outside of Ford products. I’d like to know if there’s some technological issue that exists that I’m overlooking making it more prohibitively expensive than I realize. You know, a little due diligence.

When you connect an IPOD up to a windows machine it shows up as a hard drive. This drive contains a IPOD_CONTROL folder and below that a MUSIC folder that contains a series of folders named Fnn where n = 00 to I guess 99. These folders contain your music files, the file names have been changed but the ID3 tags are intact.

So is the iPod running a FAT or NTFS file system? Or does Apple install some software with iTunes (iPod Device Software or something) that allows Windows to translate a Apple file system with Explorer?

Because a USB cable isn’t enough.
An iPod (or a Zune, for that matter) isn’t just an external hard drive. It’s a music player. The control signals are on separate pins - USB isn’t even required for an iPod dock. If you wanted to replicate all of the D/A circuitry in your car stereo, than you could use an iPod as an external hard drive and just read the files off of it, and play them, but that’s not what happens now. So, it’s just a more complicated problem than you understand. Since Car stereo manufacturers have an extremely long lead time (look how long it’s taken them to support the iPod), it only makes sense for them to pick the clear winner and only support that. The Zune has an insignificant market share, and isn’t worth their effort. It’s one of the selling points for the iPod - there is an enormous market for accessories, something that no other MP3 player has.

I was being entirely serious.* Look, for better or worse, Apple iPods are the portable music player business. Do you want a rotary engine and rear-wheel steering to go with the Zune interface? Imagine you’re designing an upscale car radio. It’s got a remote and LCD screen and buttons on the steering wheel. Naturally, you want to make it take advantage of the interface provided by the double-digit leader of the marketplace, even if it is useless to the minority. Next, you can either work out how to integrate the second-most popular device into the design, or you can say screw it and stick in a cheap and simple eighth-inch jack. Now any yahoo with a Walkman can use it and both Zune users can get by.

For some reason, I get the Crutchfield catalog. Those guys have managed to hook an iPod up to everything. If you think about it, the manufacturers in there are borrowing cachet from Apple by putting the iPod functionality in and logo on their car stereos and such. The most important thing is being technocool, which I just looked up in the dictionary. There’s a picture of an iPod next to it.

If any non-iPod owning potential Audi buyers out there told a dealer they were holding on to the $60K over this issue, I’m sure he’d throw in an iPod to make the sale.

  • And a little bit snarky.

The current incarnation of the Audi Music Interface (AMI) allows for connecting more than just iPods. You can replace the iPod dock cable with a female USB plug that will accept flash drives, portable hard drives, and MP3 players which act as mass storage devices. Also available are mini-USB cables and 3.5-mm stereo aux-in connectors. Even more, the most current models support a A2DP Bluetooth Stereo adapter for wireless connection compatible devices.

The point is that the Audi system in particular is highly flexible, and it doesn’t simply limit you to iPod support.

Besides the connector, the proprietary IAP protocol requires a per-unit SW royalty. Beowulff also points out the fact that most (all?) head units rely on the iPod to do the audio d/a, so the pinout of the connector becomes more specialized. Finally there is a certification process with Apple that’s required for a head-unit/vehicle line to advertise that they work with the iPod/iTouch/iPhone (Apple’s been lax about this, but they’re getting more serious with the latest “WWI” certification, which requires suppliers to integrate an authentication IC specified by Cupertino if you want to avoid the iPhone displaying a “This accessory is not made to work with iPhone” nag screen ).

All of this builds extra cost into your product–which means less money available for other MP3 player interfaces–but you have to do it if you want your device to play with Apple.

iPods are high end devices. The cars you test drove are as well. Sticking a Zune in a high end car is like serving McDonalds at the Four Season Hotel.

You don’t do that.

Now that doesn’t mean that Zunes are bad or McDonalds tastes awful. It’s just that they are preceived as lower end than an iPod.

You may recall the Prince written song by Sheila E which contains the line “If you have to ask you can’t afford it.”

You are thinking from the standpoint of a consumer not a manufacturer who WANTS to sell you things.

iPod is on top they don’t want to play WMA. Zune is underneath so they want to play mp3 AND WMA, iPod doesn’t want to play WMA, even though it’d make things easier for the consumer.

I worked at a very high end hotel in Chicago. Several airlines wanted to place their crews in our hotel. We said “no,” we didn’t want uniformed people in our hotel. Even though they were willing to pay the very high rate. Just having the uniform would lower the class of the hotel.

We were talking on par with the Ritz and Four Seasons at $300+ bucks a night in 1998.

If you can afford a car you can afford an iPod.

Also sometimes companies work out deals with each other. Everyone knows iPod, so perhaps the dealers made a marketing agreement whereas the dealers could jack up the price $500.00 and offer you a “free” iPod which costs the dealers $100.00. Thus this “Free” thing really costs you $400.00. Everyone (but you) wins.

You see there are lots of reasons, but you got to look at it from the point of the person SELLING IT to you, not from the consumer stand point

I’d tell him to jam it up his ass sideways. :wink: It would take a special type of scenario for me to ever consider using iTunes for anything, my life is too short for that misery.

More seriously, I get the argument of equipping them for iPods first and foremost. That’s no mystery and I know there’s money to be made in doing so. However the fact that just about every aftermarket car stereo producer makes their units compatible with nearly EVERY MP3 player seems to reflect poorly on these ultra luxury high end OEM brands. Why is it fiscally responsible for Alpine, Kenwood and Pioneer to make units with USB inputs that control every major brand but not for Audi (or B&O)?

After posting my OP I did some research and learned that this is true. Apparently my salesman was a bit daft. Nevertheless the CNET report on the system points out that the Zune didn’t work and relied on the mini-jack. Also, the AMI is able to browse the iPod by all the ID3 information but USB drives and Creative Zens/SanDisks were only able to browse by filename and folder directory. For some reason they are relying on the iTunes/iPod database for the song data instead of ID3 info.

So, considering they took the time and money to make these other players USB support functional it makes it even more surprising that they half assed it to the degree they did.

Interesting, this is the type of stuff I’m interested in. I’m not sure what the audio d/a is or the pinout is, but it reads to me like Apple is making it intentionally onerous to support their product and making companies pay fees and certifications in order to support their product. Does any of this stuff necessarily contain provisions that they be exclusive?

If you have 60K to spend on a Volkswagon with a fancier badge then you can also spend 200$ for an ipod and ditch that zune. :stuck_out_tongue:

While I’d like to discuss with you all the reasons why an S5 isn’t anything like a rebadged VW, I’d say a necessary first step would be your learning to spell “Volkswagen” properly. Do that and then get back to me.