One of the things I was most looking forward to with my new car was the fact that it features "proper" integration with my iPod Touch. The idea that I could access gigabytes of music, audio books and podcasts on the go was very appealing. Fiddling with an iPod whilst driving is about as dangerous as using a mobile phone. Also on my old car I tried using an FM Transmitter to send the output from the iPod to the car radio using FM. It was rubbish. The problem is that there are no spare frequencies in London and if you go for a long drive the available frequencies change requiring constant retuning. All in all it made it impractical.
The new car features a combined 3.5mm audio jack and USB connector. The advantage of this approach is that it allows the sounds to be routed through to the cars Hi-Fi but also for the control of the iPod to be passed to the cars iDrive Control system. iDrive is far from perfect but is significantly improved since it has stopped being based on Windows CE and has moved to a proper real time OS.
Here we see the iPod Touch hidden away in the Drivers center arm rest.
Another advantage of the combined USB/Audio connector is the the iPod is also being charged when it is connected to the car. So no worries about a dead battery.
The iDrive control screen is in the center of the dashboard allowing either the driver or front seat passenger to operate it using the controller knob on the center console.
The iPod is identified as Audio Aux. As you can see, many of the iPod options are available including all your play lists as well as Artist and Album views.
It is very qucik and easy to zoom up and down these lists by spinning the control know and then pressing it to select.
You will notice that the Audiobook and Podcast views are missing from the menus - but this is not a problem because they are still available in the master list - so an Inspector Rebus audiobook I purchased from iTunes is listed under the artist/author Ian Rankin. Likewise the Russell Brand Podcast I subscribe to is listed under the artist Radio 2.
So it is a little different to the iPod interface but it really doesn't take long to get used to it and then the world is your oyster.
Since I found this information very difficult to find on the Internet let me also include a ...
Q1: Do I need to specify anything when I order my BMW for this great functionality?
A1: Yes. You need to order the optional Auxiliary input port. It was a couple of hundred quid
Q2: Is that it then? I'm ready to rock?
A2: Nope. You will also need a special cable which goes from the iPod Doc connector to a USB and 3.5mm jack. This is where I got mine Cooper BMW on eBay. Should be about £35
Q3: Can't I just use an 3.5mm audio cable?
A3: Of course. But you will have to operate your iPod directly and it will not be charged.
Q4: Will this work for any iPod?
A4: Yup - as long as it has a docking connector. So not the iPod Shuffle. But then the whole point about the Shuffle is that there is no UI so it would be a rather daft thing to do.
Q5: There is loads of stuff on the Interweb saying that the connection is in the glove box and it is free.
A5: That is true - but it is much more basic (essentially the first generation of iPod compatibility from several years ago). To get the cool integration above you need the Aux/USB option.
Q6: Have you tested all BMW Models?
A6: Nope - just my own 520d. But this should all work with new BMW's with the iDrive
Q7: What else doe this Aux/USB port give me?
A7: Well you could do things like copy MP3's to a USB stick, plug it in and play those track through the car stereo. Pretty cool eh?
Q8: What if I have some inferior sub iPod clone?
A8: Dunno. I use and iPod Touch. But the documentation refers to MP3 players rather than just iPods.