Apple’s iPhone 5 Will Cause Headaches For In-Car Connectivity

We know that many of you read this site on your iPhones, and even if you’re reading this on a PC or Mac, chances are that you’re still at least aware of the news that yesterday, Apple announced an all-new iPhone, called the iPhone 5.  (Just to make things even more complicated, it’s actually the 6th generation iPhone – original iPhone, 3G, 3GS, 4, 4S, 5).  Also, the ubiquitous Apple 30-pin dock connector has been thrown out after years of loyal service, replaced by an all-new 8-pin connector called “Lightning.”  That last point has implications for the auto industry.

“Vanilla” USB Connection
A majority of new cars sold today offer some sort of iPod/iPhone connectivity, usually via USB.  If you have one of those vehicles and wish to connect an iPhone 5 to your car, you will either have to purchase an extra USB to Lightning cable from Apple, move the cable that comes with your phone to your home, to your office, and to your car, or buy a 30-pin-to Lightning adapter from Apple.  Ford, for instance, allows you to connect a smartphone or music player with just a simple USB cable.  The new iPhone 5 comes with one official Apple cable, but it’s $19.00 for a spare.  And you’ll have to wait 2-3 weeks to get one from Apple at this point.

Proprietary Cables
My personal 2008 Cadillac CTS has a proprietary AC Delco cable to connect to an iPhone.  Why GM had to make it so complicated, I don’t know.  (I also don’t know why the cable has to be so damn short, which requires you to either keep your phone inside the center console, or to pinch the cable in the console lid.)  The cable (pictured) has a 30-pin connector on one and and a 1/8 inch stereo plug/USB connector on the other.  If I try to use a plain Apple USB cable to connect my iPhone to the car, I’m told it’s an unrecognized device.  The solution for me will probably be to buy the 30-pin to Lightning adapter, but it is really annoying that the adapter is $29.00 (or $39.00 for the cable version!) and the GM cable costs $21.51.  Hyundai and Kia, among others, use a similar proprietary cable, so owners of those cars would need to do something similar, unless automakers create a new version that replaces the 30-pin connector with a Lightning connector.

iPhone Cradle
It gets more complicated if you have one of the very slick iPhone docks in your car.  For instance, some BMW models have an in-console iPhone cradle that the phone snaps into.  At the base of the cradle is a 30-pin connector.  Don’t forget, too, that the new iPhone is taller than the old ones.  It seems unlikely that an iPhone 5 would fit into the dock height-wise, and especially not if it needs some sort of adapter on the bottom of the phone.

BMW was among the first automakers to offer iPhone connectivity, and the company seems to have a good relationship with Apple, so I would expect there to be some sort of accommodation developed.  In the case of the BMW iPhone cradles, I’d wager that such an accommodation would include a retrofit of a different cradle (complete with different connector).  I’d also wager that such a retrofit will not be cheap.  Think hundreds of dollars, not tens of dollars.

Chinese Knockoff Cables?  Not yet.
I get angry about Chinese knockoffs when it comes to electronics and cars.  But I’m kind of OK with them when they save me money versus overpriced OEM connectors.  The old 30-pin connectors have been around for so long (since 2003), that it was easy to buy knockoff cables for incredibly low prices on eBay.  Two years ago, I bought a 10-pack of USB dock connector cables on eBay for about $10 with free shipping.  I think I still have 5 or 6 left, even after giving one to a friend.  Of note, the older iPhone 4 and 4S that will be sold alongside the new iPhone 5 will continue to use the old-style connector, as do the new iPad and iPad 2, at least for the time being.  I haven’t checked yet, but I suspect that it will be a while before knockoff 8-pin cables are available for a song on eBay, so we may be stuck using the OEM cables made by Apple for a while – whether that means buying spares for the absurd prices that Apple charges, or moving your single cable around for a few weeks/months until the Chinese can make servicable copies.

Bluetooth Audio
You don’t need to worry about connectors if you are fortunate to have Bluetooth streaming audio in your vehicle.  Many newer cars now have the feature, though it’s only become prevalent in the past few model years (mainly 2010 and newer, though of course that varies).  The downsides of Bluetooth streaming are that 1) it’s a battery drain, versus a battery charging event with a cable connection, 2) you lack some of the control of the cable connection when operating your phone wirelessly, and 3) the audio quality is not as good as a with a cable connection.  To me, the battery drain issue is the biggest one with Bluetooth audio (assuming you actually have it in your car), and that means either living with it (for shorter trips) or getting a 12 volt charger if you need to sustain the charge.

All of this falls under the category of “first world problems” (#firstworldproblems), but they’re important issues for automakers to work on and for consumers to consider.  Wouldn’t it be disappointing to try to connect your shiny new iPhone 5 only to find out that it won’t work?  Now you’ll be ready for that.

Author: Chris Haak

Chris is Autosavant's Managing Editor. He has a lifelong love of everything automotive, having grown up as the son of a car dealer. A married father of two sons, Chris is also in the process of indoctrinating them into the world of cars and trucks.

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7 Comments

  1. I’m sticking with my soupcan & string system…

    …”Hello, Progresso?”
    😀

  2. I think most people realize and accept the fact that the old 30-pin connector was outdated and needed replacement. But Apple’s decision to replace it with yet another proprietary connector strikes me as a decision made by the hubris of being the market leader. There’s nothing in the technical specs that I’ve seen to indicate that it is any better or more functional than a micro USB (which has been just about virtually adopted by all other smart phone manufacturers). Apple is clearly going proprietary to control and profit from the accessory market.

    It reminds me of Sears and the Discover Card. When Sears created Discover in the 80s, they would only accept it (not Visa/MC) at their stores. It worked for a while because Sears was at the time the largest retailer in the country. Then came Wal-Mart and all the specialty retailers like Home Depot, and suddenly Sears was just another retailer and had to give in to market pressures.

    I feel like Apple has already reached the crest of the wave and the next few years will see their gradual erosion. The iPhone 5 is what the 4S should have been. Apple is now a full generation behind the top phone makers (lawsuits not withstanding), and despite their lofty stock price, I think they’re in danger of losing the market they basically invented, if their recent history is any indication.

  3. Another problem not mentioned here is with trying to answer an incoming call in a bluetooth equiped car on the iPhone 5. I have a Chevy Volt. When a call comes in the radio silences and the ring tone comes over the car’s speakers, as it should. When you answer the call the call goes back to the iPhone 5. You then have to select the Volt from a menu on the iPhone screen to get the call back to the car over bluetooth. This is very annoying. The problem is only with the iPhone 5, the 4s and earlier work fine. GM says they are aware of the problem and are working on a solution with apple. It is unclear to me if it is an Apple problem or a GM problem. It seems to be with Apple since every other phone I have paired to it (droid, blackberry, old flip phone) all work fine.

  4. have the same problem as john volt in my ford f150 (pioneer after market). It worked when I first set it up for a month, then started the revert to Iphone after answering the phone

  5. I am MOST DISAPPOINTED in Apple for designing such a great new phone product that WON’T bluetooth with my Porche Cayenne 2008. The car won’t recognize that the bluetooth is even available though my previous android and my husband’s iphone 4 worked with it perfectly. Any suggestions to overcome the difficulty?

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