Apple Hitches a Ride With BMW

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Apple Computer and BMW this week introduced a new interface that enables owners of many BMW automobiles made since 2002 to integrate Apple's IPod digital music player into their vehicle's sound system. While BMW may be the first manufacturer with whom Apple has announced a partnership, Apple says it won't be the only one.

"We are beginning a really big push into a world we all spend a lot of time in--our cars," Phil Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of Worldwide Product Marketing, tells MacCentral. "So many people invest in great cars that have great stereos, but one thing they don't have is access to their music library. Now you can put your IPod in your BMW or Mini and have all of your music everywhere you go."

The interface incorporates a cable that's plugged directly into the vehicle's sound system. The cable, which resides in the vehicle's glovebox, plugs into the dock connector of IPods and IPod minis. It charges the IPod's battery while allowing the driver to control IPod track selections, playlists, and volume from the dashboard sound system controls and from controls on the steering wheel.

BMW recognizes a shared customer base with Apple: Both companies attract technology-adopting, successful people. It's this synergy that brought them together.

"We know that a lot of BMW owners are people that achieve success early in life--they are work hard, play hard kind of people and they adopt new technologies that help them save time or empower them," says Jim McDowell, vice president marketing BMW North America. "We knew when we saw the IPod come out that it was something that would appeal to a lot of BMW owners."

Direct Connection

The success of the IPod has spawned a burgeoning market of third-party solutions used to connect IPods through car stereos, ranging from wireless FM transmitters to wired cassette tape adapters. Such solutions have drawbacks, however: FM transmitters can produce low-quality sound or may not work correctly unless they're tuned to an unused frequency. And while cabled solutions may sound a bit better, they also tend to create a mess.

"As we saw the number of IPods sold increase at an amazing rate, we said, 'There just has to be a way we can combine the two,'" says McDowell. "Then we discovered how many BMW owners were attempting to do this on their own using the auxiliary jack in the car. That really is an awful solution because you don't have the same sound quality and your IPod is sitting in the cup holder--that's why this was such an elegant solution from our perspective."

The difference between third party solutions and the Apple/BMW offering isn't just cosmetic: The integrated connector offers something nobody else can at this point--a digital connection.

"Above all this really delivers phenomenal audio quality because it's a direct digital connection through the connector in the bottom of the IPod," says Apple's Schiller. "Now you can have the best mobile music experience that's ever been in a car--you have your whole music library, a digital link and an incredible stereo."

You can also use ITunes on a Mac or PC to create up to five unique BMW playlists, which you can then play when you're driving. The sixth playlist will automatically go to your entire library, according to BMW's McDowell.

"While some other companies are trying to bring the Web and Internet services into the vehicle, Apple is going back to basics," says Jupiter Research Senior Analyst Joe Wilcox. "Music and cars are joined in the North American consciousness. BMW and IPod are a natural fit. Both are luxury items that epitomize attention to detail, design and style."

More to Come

Apple's fit with automobile manufacturers will go beyond BMW in the future. Apple's Phil Schiller says this is the first of what he thinks will be several partnerships.

The kit to hook up your IPod will cost $149 plus installation, according to BMW.

"Our drivers have known the ultimate driving experience for some time; this combines the ultimate listening experience with the ultimate driving experience," says McDowell.

This story, "Apple Hitches a Ride With BMW" was originally published by MacCentral.

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