A Better Aux-In Jack

I’ve spent the past two weeks searching for and finally purchasing a car. My old one wasn’t in great shape and I was told in April that it shouldn’t have passed inspection. But, all is well now. I ended up with a really nice 2009 Toyota Camry and I don’t think I’d be happier with any other car (despite what others may imply).

But purchasing this car got me thinking about car audio systems. I haven’t listened to the radio in my own car in over four years. Instead, I’ve used a cassette tape adapter to connect my iPhone or iPod to my car’s stereo so that I can listen to my own music, commercial free. The new car doesn’t have a cassette player but instead has auxiliary-in jack inside of a small compartment under the audio unit. I simply plugged an audio cable into it and my iPhone and I was ready to go, listening to all of my favorite music and podcasts. It works well, but it could be better.

A lot of other car companies implement an iPod dock connector instead of the auxiliary-in jack, this way you can control the iPhone/iPod from the audio unit and have the ability to charge your device at the same time. The only problem is that it’s only compatible with Apple devices. But, what if instead of using the dock connector they utilized the control mechanism in the headphone jack that allows Apple’s headphone and some third-party headphones to control your music with a little clicker on the cable? Of course, you would need a cable with a third contact but it would give recent iPhone and iPod owners the ability to play and pause their music and skip to the next or previous track right from the same controls you would use if you were listening to a CD. And, it would still maintain compatibility with any other device that has a headphone jack.

If car companies really wanted to go all-in on this they could include a microphone in the steering wheel and offer a Voice Control button so you could place phone calls and control your music just by speaking. I want car companies doing this. The only downside I can find is that you can’t charge your iPhone or iPod over the headphone jack (unless you’re using a second-generation or later iPod shuffle). But, the only way I can charge my phone now is with an adapter for the DC power outlet. So, if the alternative to the smarter aux-in jack is a dumb aux-in jack you’re not missing the charging functionality anyway. And a dock connector — although capable of charging — loses compatibility with non-Apple hardware.

I’m happy that some car companies have decided to make auxiliary-in jacks standard in their cars, but I’d like them to go one step further with it. I can’t imagine it taking more engineering time to implement than an iPod dock connector would. But, the added benefit of supporting every MP3 player and nearly every smartphone on the market would be well worth the effort.