New iPhone connector threatens car compatibility

As most new cars offer some sort of iPhone audio hookup, what does the new 19-pin dock mean for integration?

Wayne Cunningham Managing Editor / Roadshow
Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine.
Wayne Cunningham
2 min read

BMW started the trend in 2004, offering native integration between car and iPod. Now almost every new car sold has some method of plugging in an iPhone or iPod. This integration is very convenient for drivers, as they can select music from the device through a car's own stereo controls.

However, reports of a smaller, 19-pin connector for the iPhone 5, replacing the current 30-pin connector, may bork iPhone integration with car stereos. Short of getting a new car to match your shiny new iPhone, what is a driver to do?

The good news is that many cars, such as those from Ford, BMW, and Honda, use a standard USB port to connect to the existing white iPhone cable. The new 19-pin connector is likely to use the same sort of adapter cable as current iPhones and iPods, so should plug right in. However, those existing cars may not be able to decode the signal from the iPhone 5 and its connector, depending on how much Apple reengineers its interface.

Ford's Sync software can be updated by the owner, which may be necessary to make it compatible with the iPhone 5. BMW owners using a snap-in dock will have to wait until BMW comes up with one designed for the iPhone 5.

Cars from Kia, Hyundai, Audi, and Volkswagen use an iPhone cable specific to the car. Those automakers will need to offer an adapter cable with the 19-pin connector, which car owners will need to buy if they want to patch the new iPhone to the car. BMW also used a cable similar to Hyundai's and Kia's in its cars from a few years ago. These will also need the new adapter cable.

Some cars, such as a Nissan Juke we tested recently, have a fixed 30-pin iPod connector in the console or glove box. This configuration is the worst-case scenario. However, Apple or another accessory-maker might step in and offer a 30-pin-to-19-pin adapter module, which could just be left hooked up to the car.

The implementation of most of these solutions may take some time. To fill the gap, there is always Bluetooth audio streaming. As Bluetooth is a standard, the iPhone 5 should pair with existing car Bluetooth systems right out of the box, barring any clever Apple engineering. Most new cars with a Bluetooth phone system also support audio streaming. The primary disadvantage of Bluetooth streaming is that you have to use the phone, instead of the car's stereo interface, to select music.

If all else fails, you can keep that old iPhone around to use strictly as a music storage device for the car.