My fascination for all things tech and clever extend beyond gadgets- I’m one of those unfortunates that upgrades their car every 2-3 years. The fascination comes from the same root as my love of electronics: the desire to understand the facets that make it enjoyable (be it screen resolution and processor power or 0-60 times and MPGs), the fun in following blogs and news sources to broaden your horizons, the indulgence in the joy of something innately “cool”, and the fun that new toys always bring.
The enjoyment of driving a car is closely tied to its ability to mesh with other things I love, especially music. Driving without accompanying audio is almost unthinkable to me, be it music, audiobooks (especially good for long drives), or podcasts. With each successive vehicle I’ve sought to improve not only the ride but the ability to enjoy all the aspects of that ride, from the first time I installed an after-market auto reverse cassette deck in my beater Volkswagen Rabbit to the iPod integration of my Mini Coopers.
The upgrade to the iPhone 5 gave me an opportunity to both consolidate my devices and tinker with new (to me, at least) tech. Mini Cooper uses the same sort of factory stereo input for Apple devices as many other car manufacturers- a 32 pin connector that splits into USB and standard stereo jack plugs. The setup provides the ability to control your device from the stereo (and steering wheel controls if you have them) and the display of some metadata of the tracks on your device. While it works, the user experience isn’t exactly seamless. The Cooper’s controls allowed sorting by Artist, Album, Genre, and Playlist, but that’s it. Selection was limited to scrolling with a knob on the stereo; ok if you have just enough music to fill a Shuffle, but when you start to fill up an iPod Classic the task of finding a specific artist or album becomes a Sisyphean task. Having my entire library was nice, but realistically I was limited to either playing the entire library on random or choosing one of the smart playlists I had made (mostly limited to podcasts, as the stereo unit had no category to sort them).
Using my then iPhone 4 wasn’t a viable option as the cable connection interfered with the phone’s ability to interface via Bluetooth for calls. Using a much cheaper USB thumbdrive was considered, but it would have made synching podcasts much more difficult and wouldn’t have overcome the hurdles created by a large library. Thankfully, my choice of successor to the Mini had an answer.
I shopped around quite a bit before choosing a Hyundai Genesis Coupe. The GT model had everything I was looking for in a car- power to spare, top notch interior, stylish looks, and best of all just about every electronic feature I could want. While XM is great (especially access to NFL games), there are times when you want to hear a favorite album or podcast. The Infinity stereo in the Genesis has the same sort of cable input as my Mini had- 32 pin connector that split into USB and stereo jack controllable by the head unit and steering wheel controls. It has some additional features, like voice control and a 5″ color LCD screen capable of showing far more track metadata, but it’s still close to the same setup. Thankfully, it’s capable of something that only a few cars are so far- Bluetooth audio streaming.
The ability to stream from my iPhone’s music and podcast library (or play the audio from any streaming source) is an absolute boon. When coupled with Siri you needn’t do much but choose the phone as an input, then tell it what you’d like to hear. Launch Pandora, pick a playlist or album, or whatever your heart desires. I’ve seen some new models being touted by manufacturers that have streaming audio built into the stereo, from Pandora to Spotify. The concept is an intriguing one, but I already have the capacity to enjoy those sources and would rather not pay a premium for additional ways to access them (or potentially another data plan).
Using your iPhone instead of an iPod for audio has a couple advantages- rather than upgrade my aging iPod Classic (to the tune of about $250) I just chose a higher-capacity iPhone (adding $100 to the contract-subsidized price). While I don’t carry my entire music library with me, I carry the vast majority of tracks I’d like to hear more than once. In addition, I don’t have to bring an additional device to my office to sync new content- podcasts and music sync wirelessly now. If there’s something I’d like but don’t have locally, solutions abound: for podcasts there’s both Apple’s Podcast App and Stitcher, for music there are too many sources to cover (streaming and purchasing). For those that want access to their entire library but don’t have the capacity there are a couple easy solutions- iTunes Match or Google Music.
One caveat- the Genesis’ Infinity system isn’t completely compatible with Siri and it doesn’t take advantages of Apple’s new eyes-free iPhone mode (although it’s been announced for future models). Currently I have to access Siri via my iPhone’s home button, but it’s an easy task that doesn’t divert my gaze from the road thanks to a cup holder mount that keeps my iPhone in easy reach. While the car has audio control built in, it can’t interface with Siri or access the library on the iPhone, it only interacts with devices connected by the now-outdated 32 pin cable. I haven’t tried to use it with a Lightning adaptor, but to be honest the Bluetooth streaming it affords doesn’t give me much incentive to try.
For those of you still using physical media like CDs for your audio, take a look at some of the digital options available to you. Many new cars are offering these features as they add a good deal of value without costing the manufacturer much to include. More access to the media you enjoy is always good, and having an additional use for your iPhone makes it that much more valuable.
Read Full Post »