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Macworld: iPodding your car gets serious

Macworld: iPodding your car gets serious

Everyone's doing car tech these days, and Macworld 2006 is no exception. Tucked in among the forest of iPod, iBook, and PowerBook (or is that MacBook?) accessories is an auto tech section of the show floor. There, you'll find the latest and greatest in aftermarket accessories for connecting your iPod to your car. Tape adapters, MP3-capable stereos with an auxiliary jack on the faceplate, and FM transmitters (which always fail in busy metro areas like San Francisco) just don't cut it anymore. Here are three options that caught my eye. (Check out videos of all three here.)

Alpine IVA-W200
Alpine introduced a trio of new head units at CES, each of which offers some serious music integration choices not limited to the iPod. The IVA-W200 arrives in the form of a 7-inch, touch-screen color display. It is, duh, an AM/FM radio, and it's also a DVD player that will accept pretty much any CD type you have. It'll also connect to and receive song information from digital audio players such as Creative, iRiver, Samsung, or Dell--and any other Plays for Sure device--over USB.

Then, of course, there's the Full Speed Connection for iPod, which includes a search feature that lets you cruise through playlists, artists, albums, and songs superquickly--you can even perform the equivalent of a page-down action to hop through a long list of songs. And of course, you get the metatags, artist, and song info displayed on the touch screen, and iPod charging, to boot. And all for the low, low price of $1,100 (plus optional add-ons for HD Radio, XM Satellite Radio, XM with NavTraffic, Sirius Satellite Radio, and more)--and that's before installation. Makes that $10 tape adapter sound a bit better, eh?

Spec.dock
The Spec.dock, from 2point5.com, isn't an entire stereo unit like the IVA-W200. Instead, it solves that pesky digital-audio-to-stereo-integration problem: "but where in the heck do I actually put the iPod?" Spec.dock is a vehicle-specific dock for iPods--with fitted docks for a few car models, such as recent Volkswagens; 3-series, 7-series, and X5 BMW models; the Dodge Magnum and Charger; and the Chrysler 300c. And there's a universal cup-holder model if, say, you're the Toyota type. The dock, once installed in a former ashtray or similar place, connects to the back of your iPod-friendly car stereo of choice and gives you a nice, attractive mount so that you can show off your iPod or, if your stereo requires it, control the music from a slightly more convenient location than the passenger seat or the glove compartment. It's about $150, but presumably if you've already kicked down for a BMW, an iPod-friendly stereo (aftermarkets are more likely to display track and artist information, as you might suspect) and various professional installations, the custom dock is just the icing. Unlike the Alpines mentioned above, Spec.dock is iPod-only.

Scosche Bluetooth Wireless Interface for iPod
This last is actually my favorite of the bunch (pending a full review and considering the 10 minutes I spent with it--this is a blog post, just to be clear). Scosche's interface consists of a Bluetooth transmitter and receiver. The transmitter snaps on to the back of your iPod, while the receiver is installed behind your car stereo or in your dashboard, providing wireless access to the now-Bluetooth-enabled iPod. Scosche says it has better quality than an FM transmitter because it's a digital signal, and it won't cut out the way the iTrip has a tendency to do. You'll want an aftermarket stereo, since the setup plugs into an auxiliary port, but Scosche says an adapter is available for factory stereos, bringing the total cost to from $249 to $299. Cool factor? With Bluetooth's 30-foot range, you can take the iPod (or any other player, really) outside to the parking lot, the park, or to the campfire, and still control the music playing inside the car--handy if the back of your vehicle is just one big stereo. Hey, I've seen it. Also, the unit will pair with any Bluetooth cell phone, and then you'll get that excellent show-off moment where the phone rings and the music shuts off until you're done talking. Plus, and especially if you're performing any of these installations at home, the fewer wires, the better.

Granted, this would all be a lot easier if Steve Jobs would just announce the iCar at next year's keynote, but that might be too much to hope for. Might.