We have a constant flow of vehicles going through our testing regime. Many of our testers have iPhones they use connected as iPods. (Gotta have some music playing while you drive through the twistys on Mulholland drive, right?)
These testers have been voicing frustrations with Apple’s arbitrary approach to upgrades. The most recent example is the upgrade from iPhone software V4, V4.1 and V4.2.
As the testers have gone through the upgrade path, they report cases where the iPod is disabled. (The vehicle can no longer control the iPod function.) The problem is inconsistent, but involves both V4 and 3GS phones.
There is always the work around of disconnecting the iPhone, selecting and starting the playlist and reconnecting the device. (NHSTA would have a field day with this level of distraction!)
Because the device worked with a different version of the software, we are inclined to view this as an Apple issue.
We are launching a more formal study of this problem and will publish results in the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, I should say that this is not the first time Apple has fumbled in this area.
Apple defines the specs for the in-vehicle iPod interface. A few years back, they switched from a Firewire based interface to one based on USB. The power voltages for each are different and this meant that many consumers were left with a connector that would not charge newer iPods.
Apple also was “mandating” that manufacturers disable an iPod’s controls when connected. This was fine if the vehicle’s interface allowed the user to control the iPod. But at the time, many manufacturers were using CD player emulation. This meant that access to playlists, artists, etc. was severely limited.
Apple wanted to “get ahead of the driver distraction issue” but of course, this resulted in the driver being forced to again disconnect select and start a playlist and reconnect. A much more distracting process than if the iPod controls were just left enabled in the first place.
Apple is rightly viewed as a great innovator. But they can also be deaf to the market. As long as they are making billions, this is not likely to concern them much. On the other hand, more consumer-centric solutions are being introduced all the time. (Smartphone and tablets that support Flash, as an example.)
It will be interesting to see how Apple’s virtues of innovation, elegance and simplicity, but also their arrogance, and obsession with control compete with new rivals that offer more choice, but also a bit more complexity.
Which will the market value more?