Friday, April 18, 2008

How an iPod integrates with a BMW

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 ...

Mini FAQ.

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.


Anonymous said...

I already have an ipod, now about that BMW :P

Tony Cocks said...

To be sure the current 5 series BMW is an ugly so and so, seems odd as the previosu model wasn't. Progress eh?!

I do hope BTHP is a podcast that regularly finds it's way onto the Touch and into the car! :o)

Mr Ports said...

A podcast with my old mate decribing how plucky Spitfires and brave Hurricanes valiantly defended Blighty from the ME109's of the evil Bosh as the waves of German forces threaten to take control of the whole of Europe with only our little island prepared to stand up to the maurauding Hun? I think you will find I am a subscriber. Luft Waff indeed :)

Mikee said...

thank you for your coverage on the iDrive and iPod Touch integration! I will have my BMW 118d with iDrive now, and findig information about this is very difficult!:)

I will buy some cables to my iPod Touch, but would have a question for you:

Can I use my standard "Apple Dock Connector to USB Cable" to connect the dock connector to the USB port, and a seperate 3.5 mm cable (like this) to connect the AUX port?

Thank you for your help!

Mr Ports said...

Hi Mikee,

I tried using the standard iPod doc connector cable and the display simply said "Unknown USB Device". So the answer is no - it won't work.

Of course you can use the 3.5mm jack to get the iPod to play through the stereo - but you won't be able to control it with the iDrive.

Mr Ports

Mikee said...

Thank you!:) It's interesting that you can only get this kind of cable from a third party producer (from e-bay!) and Apple/BMW doesn't support it!

I'll post my experiences here, so we can help others!:)

Anonymous said...

Mikee... BMW do supply a cable but they wanted more money for it. eBay supplier was about £35, BMW wanted £48 plus VAT. Hmmm, tricky one.

Anonymous said...

There must be something different with the iPod Touch. My wife's iPod Nano works with the iDrive using only the standard apple dock usb cable. However the iDrive dosn't even recognise my iPod Touch. I have a '08 325i with the innovations package.

Mikee said...

darren: thank you! i will ask my dealer here in Hungary, if they supply it or not!

What is your experience with the sound quality? Maybe the cable from BMW produces better quality...

anonymus: it is really interesting? What cable do you use then for your iPod Touch?

I will have a '08 118d anyway!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this. Quick question - how can I make the shuffle function work from iDrive?

Anonymous said...

Was there an answer to Olivier"s question -- how to make the shuffle function work on the iDrive?

Anonymous said...

Re shuffle function, the ipod version does not work, but an idrive version is available. Select a song (through an artist, genre, playlist, etc. on the idrive) and push down on the idrive control dial. A small menu pops up and one of the options is "random." When selected, it will play randomly in the artist, playlist or whatever you started from.

Anonymous said...

iTouch does not work with the standard BMW aux port, you get a message saying incompatible device and BMW tell me there is nothing you can do about it. iPod shuffle works with no problem, despite what was said earlier.

Mikee said...


you need a special 6FL Cable, as it was mentioned in the previous post! BMW Item number is 61120431424 !

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty confused here.

I've got both an AudioAux and the USB connector. My old iPod Nano worked fine when I connected the standard Apple USB cable from the iPod to the USB Connector on my BMW 520d.

However it won't recognise my new iPod Touch when I use exactly the same connector.

I've found the cable on Ebay that I think you refer too, but its just an Aux cable. Surely the USB connector should work thats built in?


Mikee said...


it seems that the old iPods work with the standard Apple USB Cable, however the new ones do not.
You need a special 6FL Cable, as it was mentioned in the previous post! BMW Item number is 61120431424 !

Anonymous said...

I have a BMW 3 and an old Nano. It works fine with the normal USB only. Although I did have some probs at the begining and had to reboot/restore the nano.

BUT for some reason neither my playlists or the BBC podcasts appear. The podcast files only appear with their random 4 digit ipod code eg werj or yskn etc.

Any ideas on why ?
ps other podcasts are found in the podcast menu.

Anonymous said...

I just got a BMW 5-series with the iPod USB adaptor in the center console. My iPod Classic (released fall 2007) plays music but won't display anything on the screen except the words "external device attached." Also none of the controls work (steering wheel buttons or idrive)with my iPod.

My husband's older iPod 5th generation (released in 2006)works perfectly, however.

Does anyone have an explanation for this?


Mikee said...

What kind of cable do you use when you connect your iPod?

Anonymous said...

Mikee, I use the cable that came with the car. It is a combined USB cable with a headphone-like jack.

Is this enough information?

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

My idrive doesn't recognise my playlists and sorts all my tracks alphabeticaly within albums, has anyone else experienced this ?

Anonymous said...

I have an ipod classic like Bethseda problem - won't recognise playlists - soooooooo frustrating
Any hints pleeeeeassse

dochawk said...

I have a 2007 BMW 3 series with iDrive and factory installed iPod connection. My iPod Classic 120 2008 connects with standard iPod to USB cable and plays fine. However, the playlists/songs/artists are only displayed as F1, etc. with subfiles using random 4 letter codes WERV, etc. for each song--it will display Artist/song IF you click on individual code and depress iDrive for "details"; BUT you cannot scroll through names/songs to preselect.


Anonymous said...

Hi. I have af BMW 130I from 2006 with Idrive system, I would like to use ipod function from idrive menu. But there is one issue I have no USB port, I have only AUX :-( I have Iphone Adaptor installed, can I install a USB connection ?? Hope you can help me

Jac said...

Hi, you said that it wouldn't work with an ipod shuffle.
However thats not right. The shuffle obeys the same file structure system as other apple products.
As long as you have the usb dock for the shuffle then it will work.

I have tried this on a 325i with the professional cd player and a 2nd gen nano (the really small one) and it is possible to scroll through artist, playlist, etc

Anonymous said...

Dear anonymous, the iphone connector should be the same on most ipods. Have you tried just plugging your ipod into that connector?

Anonymous said...

Dear anonymous, the iphone connector should be the same on most ipods. Have you tried just plugging your ipod into that connector?

Anonymous said...

I have a 2005 630ci with iDrive
It has come pre-wired with a 6 CD drive, and seems that iDrive cannot simply add a USB connection without losing the 6 CD player.

Any suggestions on how to simply do this without losig the 6-CD or paying a fortune to 'install' the iPod.
Thanks fpr the informative info thus far

Anonymous said...

When connecting muy iPod touch (jailbroken) my car at first says reading and then it says : "It´s not supported"

what can i do??

Unknown said...

Thanks so much for sharing this good post with us.Thanks for posting this info.Excellent post and wonderful blog.

Anonymous said...

Hi. I have a 2013 BMW 535i and recently connected my Ipod touch to the I Drive via the Apple white cable, and it works OK. But my mobile phone has stopped operating through blue tooth. Do I need to install a snap on phone adaptor in order for the phone and the Ipod to work?
Thanks for your help