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iOS 7 + iTunes Radio breathes new life into car audio systems

As I suspected, the new iTunes Radio built into iOS 7 is going to breathe new life into many car audio systems.

I have an older car which is “iPod ready.” This amounts to a 30-pin connector where you can plug in your iPod (and later iPhone) into the console. Once connected, you have a pretty native audio solution – the steering wheel and dashboard controls can skip to the next song and the radio screen displays basic info like song title and artist.

This was a great solution back in the days of MP3′s and iTunes downloads – but I haven’t done that for years. Recently, it’s all about cloud storage, streaming music and services like Spotify, Pandora and Slacker.

However, due to the way iOS handles streaming music services they never truly integrated into the system – you couldn’t just plug your phone into the center console and have it start up and play music from one of these services and also display the song info on the dash.

Until now.

I’ve had this sneaking suspicion that whenever Apple introduced its own subscription music service it would work with a wider variety of older model car audio systems like mine, which were originally built to handle MP3s stored on your phone. I had a feeling that the iPhone would handle the “transport” of its own “subscription” songs through the audio system just like it handled a downloaded MP3. (Remember, everyone thought Apple was going to go the subscription route for $10 a month or whatever.)

Now we have iTunes Radio and I was able to test my theory this afternoon.

I hooked up an iPhone 5 with iOS 7 to my car’s audio system which has previously never played “nice” with any streaming music service. By “nice” I mean I wanted more than just audio out – I wanted full integration including song title readout and working skip buttons on the steering wheel.

As soon as I plugged in the iPhone, iTunes Radio resumed immediately and I was able to use the steering wheel controls to skip to the next song (up to a max skip of course, just like Pandora, Slacker, et al). The song title even displayed on my dashboard.

My theory is correct – since iPhone doesn’t seem to make a distinction between iTunes Radio streaming songs and those stored on your phone, a car audio system built for MP3′s can now handle streaming songs, with all the benefits associated with it.

I haven’t done extensive testing on this and I’m not sure it will work for ever single setup where a car has an iPod connector, but this is a promising new feature for a lot of car audio systems out there.

Of course you still can’t easily change radio stations or use fine tune controls from the dash, but this is a huge win for folks like me who just want a constant stream of new music in my car without a lot of fuss, downloading or work.