iPod or Jack?

Here’s a question for ya….

I have an iPod. It’s a great, sleek looking 30GB black thing and I even get to use it occasionally. In the Viggen, which still had a tape deck in the dash, I used my iPod through a tape adaptor. When the Viggen is fixed, I might get around to putting in an AudioTroll, but will cope OK if that’s not possible. As the 900 has a CD player installed, this isn’t an option, so I’ll be going iPodless in that car, which is fine as I listen to the radio more than I listen to music anyway (I’m a news junkie).

Many other people have iPods too. So many that a lot of car manufacturers are offering iPod integration with their stereo systems. You can control your iPod via the steering wheel controls and get playlist info on a screen in the car.

GM aren’t one of the car companies doing this. Instead, they offer an auxiliary jack that you can use to plug in any sound source. You don’t get the groovy song info on your screen and you have to control the music source at the music source.

So who’s making the right decision?

Is GM’s decision to forego iPod integration (so far) a smart move that allows the vehicle owner total choice in their music storage device? Or are they missing an important wave and a day late once again?


Your thoughts in comments are welcome.

Me? I tend to think that offering the jack is a wise choice. Encouraging a uniform command structure for personal music devices might be an even better thing, so that a variety of music players could be plugged in and operated using the same commands. But until that happens, I really think it’s a wise option to not be tied to one particular device.

I’m quite happy to mount my iPod somewhere on the dash if need be and operate it from the clickwheel. It’s not that hard and whether it’s from the device itself or the steering controls, you’re still going to be distracted. The lack of screen info may actually help in this regard by providing less distraction.

Over to you.

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  1. Swade, with the Bluetooth/OnStar issue I think we learned most buyers want a choice. How difficult would it be to add full iPod compatibility (with track and artist listings on the screen in the car and steering wheel control) in addition to the jack for all other non-Apple media players (I understand that there are other ones on the market…)?

    I think with SAAB being big on safety it’s a bit much to expect someone to be fiddling with the music source hidden under the armrest while driving to skip a song they don’t like or to look at the screen to see what the name of a particular song is.

    A problem though is that they’d have to get their audio head unit suppliers to buy-into full iPod integration and they run the risk of having the technology look archaic in 5 years when we’re playing our music through USB flash drives plugged directly-into the head unit or SD cards or something…

  2. I wish todays cars would offer a standard DIN opening so you can choose and spend as much as you want on any aftermarket product with iPod control, bluetooth for a mobile phone and so on. Other cars like the Dodge Avenger has a MyGIG infotainment system with 20GB hard drive and USB input to transfer music files. There is so much cool technology available but GM and Saab are stuck in the dark ages when it comes to offering cool audio solutions. It would be nice to all of those input options (Aux-in, USB, iPod) so you can decide yourself what you want to use.

    An aux-in on the front of the unit is one of the worst places to put the input jack. At least the previous 9-3 interior had it conveniently stored in the center console together with a power outlet.

  3. Figure I’d better chime in on this whole thing before it gets out of hand…

    Any solution that has the capability of keeping the driver focused on the road as its primary goal is a good one. The jack on the GM radios is a nice thought, but you still have to fiddle with the iPod controls and run the risk of causing an accident.

    Granted, Apple has had the same communication protocol for its iPod series since the 3rd generation and apparently it’s still the same on the newest iPod Classic and iPod Nano, presumably the Touch as well. There is the inherent risk of the technology being outdated 5 years down the road, but look at the aftermarket support Apple has for the iPod!

    GM has the capability of putting any new technology in their existing vehicles given the flexibility of the “Blacktie” program. Their iPod adapter for other models uses the same communication protocol as their XM module, so that’s how they got that to work. FWIW, someone in GM Aftersales approached me last year for help on getting this all to work in the Saab. I was too busy to help out, but I can only hope that the folks over at the factory finally gave the American aftersales organization the help they needed.

    AudioTroll goes back on sale on October 15th, or whenever the existing orders are shipped. Wiring harnesses are somewhere on the Pacific as I speak.


  4. Carl is right on. Using the iPod interface while driving is more dangerous than using a cellphone while driving. SAAB should have a USB port as other manufacturers are going with. This allows any mp3 player capable of appearing as a hard drive to be used as well as any thumb drive.

  5. I have a 30Gb Ipod that I use both for listening to music and to Swedish radio. I live in Luxembourg and the possibility of listening to the radio from my home country in my car can not be under estimated.

    However, I need to use an FM-transmitter as I opted for the Radio+Navi when buying my 9-5 Aero in March 2006. There is no “Jack” available when selecting the Navi. Think of that a few seconds. I buy the Saab “flagship” and what do I get ? In fact, I was better off with my old 9000 where I could use the cassette adapter.

    Since I bought the 9-5 I have written several times to Saab in Trollhättan. The replies have always been negative. “No, there is no development foreseen for integrating the Ipod with the audio system of the car”. I mean even Volvo provides an ipod solution and this since years……

    I think that Saab has to do better when it comes to the cars audio systems, at least in the 9-5. Furthermore, the Harman Kardon system supplied with the 9-5 does not seem to deliver….

    All in all, a very competent car that deserves a much better audio system.

  6. a simple solution would be offering the saab stereo with a harddrive (at least the big stereopakage) and A2DP bluetooth.
    so every cd you play in your car will be recorded and saved on the hdd.
    and there are A2DP accessories for iPods and most new mobilephone have it built i from start and alot of people (at least in sweden) use their phone as an mp3player.
    for those of you that dont know A2DP sending stereo music from phone to another source (headset, homestereo, carstereo). and a good thing about A2DP is that you dont have to plug in and mount the iPod/phone in your car, keep it in your pocket.

    a 20-40-60Gb harddrive
    Bluetooth A2DP

    Saab, are you reading this?

  7. well, i have to say that seeing how many people ask for ipod connectivity in the showroom it would be a wise choice to install it. however, not everyone uses ipod, and to my experience, an MP3 reading 6 CD Change is a much better option. the reason i am saying this is because i do have an IPOD and as much as it is convenient to have the controls of it through my clarion remote it has one drawback, which is the battery.

    the more you leave the IPOD plugged into the recharger the more it depletes the battery life and you end up not being able to use it anywhere else except the car as the battery wouldn’t last longer that 5 mins (at least this is what happened in my case).

    Conclusion: MP3 reading CD players are extremely convenient, and anyone who has the knowledge of working an IPOD has the knowledge of burning songs on a CD. anyway, my opinion.

    P.S. i Have had a clrion installed in my car for the past year and a half and it has this screen saver that comes up with images of planes, cities etc. what i never realized untill last week was that a part of the screen saver is a SAAB 9-5 going through the screen with a clarion sticker stuck to the front wing. nice AD 🙂

  8. I believe that the AUX jack is the smartest method in the short run, the MP3 market is still shaking out, their are several companies that make devices and this is the only way to not discriminate any of your customers. Personally I have an Ipod and use it every day, I seem to listen to more pod casts then the radio. and the MP3 cd’s are done. I had a six cd changer and the mp3 sounded like crap. I just wish that SAAB had left the AUX port in the center console. Being on the unit in the 07’s makes it impossible to use the cup holder when you have a cable hooked up to it. If a standard was developed, that we be the best method, may if the car manufactures got together and developed it the MP3 manufactures would implement. Not likely that any of these parties want to work together, yet.
    Just my $.02

  9. A while ago, I used a tape adaptor in my car, and I used it a lot. I almost never listen to the radio (I don’t like news radio, I prefer the paper or the internet). To avoid having an accident, all you have to do is DON’T SCREW WITH THE DAMN MUSIC WHILE YOU’RE DRIVING. I’ve been cut off and nearly killed more than once by morons messing with their iPods on the road. Before I go out, I skip to the playlist I wanted to hear, and then kept the iPod in my lap so I could skip songs without looking off the road.

    I don’t have the tape adaptor anymore, as I replaced the stock head unit with an Alpine CDA-9856. It has iPod integration via an iPod cable that comes out of the side of my center stack (wonderful engineering :p). Now, if I plug my iPod into this cable, the iPod is completely non-functional, and I control it with the head unit. This is probably close to what most companies offer for iPod integration, except many companies also offer redundant audio controls on the steering wheel. Either way it doesn’t matter, because you still have to look at the head unit to do anything other than switch songs. It’s not safer, and it’s not a better idea. It just relocates the controls. Hell, I drive with one hand all the time anyway, so why would I want to be adding hands to the wheel to screw with my audio? That would cause me problems. Anyway, point is, if you’re screwing with music in your car, unless you’re mindlessly skipping tracks, you’re probably looking at a screen and not the road, and it doesn’t matter if that screen is on your iPod, Zune, or in your car, it’s dangerous.

    Anyway, I’m all for the standard auxilary input jack rather than full iPod integration. That way, people who don’t have iPods aren’t left out in the cold. If you don’t mess with the PMP while you’re driving, you won’t have problems.

  10. I also that that the AUX jack is the way to go, if for no other reason that the life cycle of a car is much longer than an iPod. This means that a car that may still be covered under the original warranty could have a completely useless iPod interface as Apple can make changes much faster.

    AUX jack allows a 2008 9-3 and it’s non-DIN stereo to still be relevant 15 years from now, long after the iPods of the future have stopped using the current interface.

    Heck, I can’t even charge my wife’s iPhone on my 2 year old iPod charger. It plugs into the iPhone but they don’t actually work with each other.

  11. I, too, have an AUX jack on the aftermarket head unit on my 9-5. It works very well.

    In practice, though, using the iPod is a touch too difficult to manage in day-to-day driving. I use the iPod and the AUX jack strictly on highway trips, and I tend to have set up playlists on the iPod first, so I don’t have to fiddle with individual songs first.

    This is fine, though, because when I’m driving locally I’ll listen to the radio.

  12. Sam: usually in the past when there’s been a battle between different formats, the most popular sales-wise becomes the de facto format. For example, VHS beat-out Betamax (despite Betamax being a technically superior format), MP3 beat-out ATRAC, and I’m sure that iPod will beat-out all other contenders. It’s got too far of a sales advantage over MP3. The best system would be one that plays all formats, if at all possible, but barring that I think the overwhelming winner in the portable media player market is Apple’s iPod. It should become the de facto standard and all other portable media players should share its communications protocols for best compatibility regardless of player.

    Jeff: it hardly seems convenient or safe to drive around with your iPod in your lap with cables that run to the cassette adapter in the stereo. Do you have a separate cable running from your lap to the power outlet to keep the unit charged on long trips? The argument about people tending to changing tracks on the head unit is just as applicable to XM or even AM/FM radio. Do you advocate the removal of the stereo from cars to keep people from being distracted?

    And I think that those people you were being cut-off by were probably texting someone on their mobile phones, not skipping a song on their iPod… 😉

  13. I think there are definitely some good ideas out there. I just want to add my little .02c:

    At the risk of angering all you mac/apple fans, I will say that I own a non-apple mp3 player, and frankly I like it much better than the ubiquitous iPod, for several reasons.

    I could go on, but this isn’t the place. Bottom line is I choose to buy what suits me better, and I appreciate universal adaptability and not just Apple adaptability. I suppose it might be a good idea business-wise for GM to support Apple specifically since the iPods are so prevalent, but I think that makes it that much harder for other brands to compete. I’d like to see other brand support, but I admit it’s almost surely not worth it for GM to invest that much time and money towards compatibility for every other major mp3 player’s software. Just too much investment, not enough monetary return.

    As much as a hands-free feature would be nice, the biggest feature I’m looking for is the audio quality itself. I’m tired of using tape and FM adapters, and I’ve heard complaints from people who drive other brands that their aux jacks don’t sound that good. I just want the best possible audio quality- I’ll take charge of using my common sense on the road. After that, if you can get compatibility with my mp3 players, great.

  14. First, again I have to agree with Gripen – They should offer both – an aux-in AND an iPod interface, thus pleasing everyone. It wouldn’t be that hard to do.

    Second, why are people STILL talking about CD players!?!?! It’s not the 1990s anymore. Pearl Jam is not walking through that door anytime soon. Neither is Bush.

    Someone mentioned there isn’t a standard…well, there is – it’s the iPod, and it will continue to be for quite some time.

    And if GM was smart enough, they would make the adapter that connects to the back of the head unit changeable, (like simple plug and play), this way you can upgrade in the future (assuming a firmware update is written as well). If people want the adapter, they shell out $150 bucks. If not, use the standard aux-in.

    Problem solved.

    Yes, I am as troubled about this topic as I am the whole bluetooth thing. Wake UP GM!!!

  15. Good topic.

    In the current 9-3 iPod/mp3 users are being served, 9-5 drivers are left in the cold somehow, at least some of them.
    As i didn’t opt for the standard radio/cd unit, which has an AUX-connetor in dash, i choose the ‘infotainment plus’ to have the radio/cd/nav combination (with 6cd-changer in the boot). Ok the cd-player in the dash is mp3-compatible, but that means i have to get out the nav-cd-rom (?), and burn the iPod/mp3-files on a cd. But i don’t want to choose between music (emotional importance) and nav (intellectual information).
    Saab once made a slogan in which intellectual and emotional aspects were both important…
    so how could they forgot the AUX-jack ?

    At the moment i’m playing with the idea getting a FM-transmitter (Griffin RoadTrip, Belkin TuneFM or Kensington digital FM transmitter). As far i’ve heard till now, not much succesfull accessoires, but pretty straightforward it seems, not much to install or cables to worry about.

    OK the safety issue of not-playing around with your iPod/mp3 or whatever stays important. But that was before already with a classic radio/cassetedeck the same. The Griffin RoadTrip has a console, when it’s possible to mount it high enough, combinated view road/dash won’t be that bad. On the other hand, if you mount it high, a silly cable has to come up all over the dash… (a bad mark in minimalistic scandinavian design).

    I prefer to keep my eyes on the road, so the art of driving doesn’t get compormised with distracting music. But i don’t want to miss the music either.

  16. I think the jack is a poor idea; it’s the cheap, easy way out, leaving the dash cluttered with wires. Moreover, it’s not truly integration. All it provides is an aux-in: there’s no display of data on the SID or radio screen, no control of the iPod from the stereo, and no means of charging. Simply put, it’s half-baked.

    Look at an Audi A6 for what iPod integration can really look like. Hell, I have an Audiotroll and it works exactly as advertised. If Carl Levine up in New Hampshire can make that work, why can’t GM/Saab?

  17. Agreed. Including both would be the slickest thing they could do. I’ve used an iPod in my car for a few years, I had the input installed at the dealer on the first car—the newer car included the input—but the fumbling with the click wheel is, for me, a accident waiting to happen.

    On the ’07 Aero I bought several months ago, XM was included—it wasn’t on the prior ’03 Aero. My attitude was that this was another gimmick to hook you once the 3 months ‘sample’ period was completed. I had no intentions of continuing with it. No. No. No. But the girlfriend loved it, and actually asked me to keep it. To make a long story longer, I’ve now grown quite fond of XM . The iPod’s purely for travel/vacation now.

  18. joemama: unfortunately it seems to me GM won’t change anything unless it can be demonstrated to them that they are losing sales due to a lack of a feature. If you can prove that people are favoring buying an AUDI over a SAAB because of better iPod integration then I’m sure they’d jump at fixing the issue. As long as it’s a bunch of owners complaining privately at an internet ‘blog, it’s not going to change a whole lot.

    It wasn’t until SAAB saw that there are buyers in the U.S. favoring competitors’ cars due to SAAB’s lack of Bluetooth that lo and behold they came up with a solution to the problem!

  19. Yes indeed, integration of all kinds of systems makes it easier for lot of users.
    In march07 a rumour was that TomTom is going to put make a TomTom-iPod-integrated whole (Tomtom Duo). As far as i know i’ ts still not on the market. But the concept is about clean design, integration of different element etc.


    And apperently on the after-market (us) something like that already exist:


  20. “We want iPod, we want also superior sound quality. ”

    Is it only me seeing the contradiction?

    As good as the iPod is, the sound quality is not exactly hi fi. Nice for playing a lot of songs but for the quality we need the cd for time being.

  21. Lots of good comments. I’ll weigh in on the side of ‘open’ architecture and driver choice.

    I don’t use an iPod. I use an iRiver Clix.

    Why, you may ask?

    1. Apple is all about control. Control the hardware, software, media, etc. For a while, iTunes was it.
    2. The Clix gives me a greater range of compression formats, I don’t have to convert to AAC. (I’m not sure if this should still be an issue.)
    3. Finally, I like having a device that’s different than everyone else’s — like the Saab!

  22. Gripen: I had the wires under my legs, and I drive with my legs apart so I never hit the controls with my legs…I just had to reach down and hit next, and I could do it without looking. Of course, that was before. Now I reach towards the head unit and feel for the little bumps on the next button.

    As far as integration goes…it’s hard to have full integration when there are so many different devices…iPod, Zune, Sansa, Clix…they would need to integrate all of these things…I mean, I have an iPod and I still don’t want iPod only integration, it just isn’t fair.

  23. Gripen – While I think it’s great you think Saab is “working” on bluetooth because they now know they are losing sales, I have to disagree.

    No one at Saab is talking about bluetooth, and at the last roundtable didn’t someone say it wasn’t even brought up for discussion? And whoever was at SOC (it might have been you) didn’t even want to ask for fear of falling on deaf ears? They are so out of touch with their target market.

    Swade did manage to get some info out of a PR employee (I’m not trying to disrespect anyone, just pointing out it’s someone in PR, not engineering), but the answer was, well, that of a PR guy:

    “…just like currently the case with the all-new Cadillac CTS, the Saab 9-3 will be getting the newest version of OnStar with integrated Bluetooth phone capabilities. No firm date yet, but it is coming. We will let you know as soon as we have more details.”

    This response is nothing more than a glorified, “yeah, we are working on it…don’t hold your breath.”

    So why is Saab all of a sudden concerned? It was Swade being pro-active that brought the issue to Saab’s attention – not them lurking around this website.

    I still don’t think there will be integrated bluetooth, or ever will be until the next gen 9-3, or at least 9-5. The interior updates and front-end redesign are minor “tweaks” to hold over until the new model. Saab doesn’t care about investing more into R&D.

    Sure we rant here, and maybe employees read our comments, but they think we are just complainers, when the truth of the matter is we DO know what we are talking about and our thoughts MIRROR “joe Q public.”

  24. joemama: see the link I provided in my comments above. You’re right in remembering about the Round Table. It was I who passed on that I was told by someone at SAAB USA that the Bluetooth issue must not be a very big one because it didn’t come up at the Round Table. I’m really worried that apparently SAAB doesn’t have market research to tell them what their owners concerns are and are relying on an hour-long Q&A session with hardcore owners to let them know what buyers are concerned about.

    I didn’t “not ask” (nice double negative on my part here) because I was afraid it’d fall on deaf ears, I didn’t ask because I had a list of 26 questions to ask and much of the hour-long Round Table turned into a complaint-fest about dealers and analog OnStar being phased-out. I just never got the opportunity to ask all my questions. I only asked about when we’re getting BioPower in the U.S.

    Jeff: I don’t think SAAB needs to (nor can they) integrate every single player on the market. IMHO, they only need to integrate iPod and also have an AUX_IN port for all other players. If you want full functionality with display, and steering wheel controls and all you get that with an iPod. If you have some other player you can use the AUX_IN port. The utter ubiquity of the iPod has made it a de facto standard. Market share rules, just like in computer operating systems.

  25. Jeff, I’m pretty sure eggs is right. I think that all audio files on the iPod have to be in AAC (lossy) format (iTunes seamlessly converts MP3s to AAC so you’re probably not noticing it), which as Ken H points out is hardly the highest-fidelity format out there. However, I think that the audio quality from an iPod connected via wires is much better than those wireless FM solutions (which I have to admit I myself use a Belkin TuneBaseFM for Nano). FM fidelity is horrible and susceptible to noise and static, especially in urban environments.

  26. JC’s comment above (which I didn’t see until now for some reason) is spot-on. There is no reason the audio and infotainment features in a modern near-luxury car in the USD30K – 45K range like SAAB should be lacking. I can only guess that the general car-buying public don’t even consider these type of issues until after they’ve purchased the car. They probably just assume that there’s a way to integrate their portable media player. As was mentioned earlier AUDI has a system for integrating, and heck even low-end Dodge cars have the MyGig system available! Why not SAAB?

    I would blame the fact that it’s Delphi audio and that years of being subsidized by GM have made them lazy, but the latest SAABs have Harmon-Kardon and BOSE sound systems with the same lack of integration features (and in some cases sub-standard audio quality).

    I picked up a copy of Top Gear magazine off the newsstand (imported) and I see in the back where they list all the different cars they list SAAB as “iPod compatible as standard”. I guess their standard for “iPod compatible” is met by simply having an AUX_IN jack on the face of the head unit.

  27. Without going into the discussion of MP3 vs AAC, iTunes and the iPod can handle MP3 files just fine. It also can use AIFF, Apple lossless and WAV formats. The default import format for iTunes is set to AAC but you can change to the other formats in Preferences. Btw, AAC is the better format 😉

  28. I set my iTunes to import everything as 196 kbps mp3, and I know that they don’t get converted to AAC when they go to the iPod, because every time I rip songs from the iPod, they’re still mp3’s.

    True, the car companies can’t integrate every player, but they could offer USB integration…then you could supply your own cable and the car could use some software hocus-pocus to at least display track information. It shouldn’t be that hard…

  29. Jeff & Wulf: I guess I was wrong. I should change my iPod/iTunes preferences from AAC to some better format. I really notice a degradation in sound between WAV (CD-quality) and AAC (lossy). Thanks for the info.

    As for the USB, either you could hook-up your media player as you mention, Jeff, or you can simply hook up a USB drive (preferably this one) and play your MP3 files directly from that with full track listing control and all!

  30. Agree that Saab must come up to the market standard here and offer full ipod integration.

    For heck’s sake, it is standard on most eastern tinboxes selling at under £6k now, and even a VW golf can make the interface screen look really sweet.
    Saab cannot be seen to be behind the competition – I agree technology moves on etc etc, but that’s not going to matter to the first guy who buys the car – and after all, isn’t he the most important, else we may give up now and go buy an Audi. If GM can’t make Saabs appealing to showroom, there is no ‘down the line’ anyway. And sure, in the same way some of s still have tapes, I’m sure in 10 years time some if us will still cherish our ‘original’ ipods before they wnet wireless or whatever is next!!!

    As it was, to get my Ipod to work without terrible hissing in my own MY06 9-3 ss, I had to purchase a PAC noise eliminator and a £30 gold tip cable, but in the end it sounds great – just wish I didnt have to fumble with it and could use the steering wheel controls 🙁

  31. I think its great they use just an aux input. What if you hate XM and want Sirius? If someone has a laptop (as I have an older Dell and the speakers are teh suck) they can just plug it right in, as well as people use iPods, Zune, etc…

    I have an Alpine CDA 9856 in my 86 9000 Turbo, and it has the iPod/Satellite radio integration. What sucks about it versus the iPod itself is you can only select by artist, playlist, song and album, you cant select genre (rap, rock, country, etc…) as you can with the clickwheel on the iPod, however I have an older iPod mini (before the nano) and its a solid unit, with the exception that the battery has gone the way of the original autobox in most c900s, so it has to be constantly charged, my Alpine head unit does this.
    Also the Alpine can be complicated to use, awfully distracting, and none of my friends know how to use it, at least with just the iPod anyone can plug their iPod in, but then again you may not want to listen to their music, so in a sense it can be a benefit.

    Just my $0.02.

  32. I think the AUX minijack is just the path of least resistance. iPods still make up more than 2 out of every 3 media players sold, so also offering an iPod specific option is likely to be profitable for the next couple of years at least. Personal Audio Link should be offered on all current GM models.

    That being said – I also like the Sync My Ride option developed by Ford and the Evil Empire. For $400 someone can connect a Zune OR an iPod through a powered USB port and use a Bluetooth phone – including iPhones!? Hang on – I’m feeling a bit disoriented after seeing Apple devices listed at the top of the compatibility lists for a feature “Powered by MicroSoft” At least Ford is being like GM in that Sync will not be offered in their European brands right away.

  33. Ahhh, the original iPod – with the firewire port on top! Those were the days. I spent $400 on a 5 gig hard drive iPod.

    Look what $400 will get you now!

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