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12 Volt : Keeping up with the Car-Dashians

Using Smartphones as the Display

December 2011 By Brett Solomon

There are just some iPhone lovers who can’t be separated from their device. There are heavy iPhone users, and there are addicted iPhone worshippers who believe any other mobile device isn’t even worth glancing at, lest Steve Jobs posthumously accuse them of brand cheating.

However, there are some head units out there that can please the Apple minions to no end. They may not provide the most aesthetically elegant solution when being judged for a seamless install, but they do satisfy the cravings of the iPhone lover that not even the Pioneer
AppRadio can do.

First out of the gate is OCar. Made by Oxygen Audio, but featuring the distribution network and backend support of AAMP of America, this nifty device swallows the iPhone in its cradle and does not look bad in a single-DIN application when in landscape. But, the unit does allow the iPhone to be rotated to portrait mode.

Although this does increase the ‘goofy factor,’ it also allows the iPhone to be angled either toward the driver or passenger. It also allows for apps that just plain work better in portrait mode.

Moreover, it is essentially the first detachable faceplate your customers will actually remember to take with them (and not just in the bad part of town on the other side of the railroad tracks). If the surroundings start to look like the Bakaara Marketplace, then even the control knob is removable rending the leftovers rendered worthless to a thief. The customer just needs to download two apps, one for AM/FM and one for audio controls and then their iPhone essentially becomes the head unit.

There is something to be said about not having to worry whether your customer’s iPhone will integrate with the OCar. The only item that Ron Freeman, president of AAMP of America, astutely pointed out is, “There is a difference in the location of the ringer button between AT&T vs. Verizon phones, and we have taken that into account with different mounting options.” But Freeman puts it best by saying, “This is a hot new product that gets outside the box of traditional car audio thinking.” It may not be for everyone, but this could be the way the industry will migrate toward.

One retailer having great success with the unit is Auto Trim Design in Fairbanks, Alaska. Sales specialist Bryant Jordan noted, “I have the OCar app on my phone so I just plug it into our display to show our customers. To keep the display looking good at other times, our graphics department mocked up an iPhone so there is not a $200 phone that can mysteriously walk away. We have sold over a dozen of them so far and our customers are very happy with the experience. I am just waiting on the tough Alaska winter to see if the brackets will survive—it looks like they will but I am still recommending our customers let their vehicle warm up before they put a lot of stress moving the bracket all around.” Sounds like an add on sale for a remote start to me.


So, the last time we heard about Iroc and cars, Snooki was just born. And Mike Mineo traditionally rocked a Panasonic head unit in his Iroc. But now, there is a new company with the iconic iRoc moniker that stands for technology and not necessarily cruising for chicks in Seaside Heights. iRoc is a new company based in Austin, Texas, that is the brainchild of Michael Gagliardi and Craig Jackson. Gagliardi noted, “Craig was trying to integrate an iPhone into his son’s truck as a birthday gift, but there were a lack of solutions. When Craig and I teamed up to launch the company, we saw the potential to provide a full infotainment and telematics solution by utilizing the smartphone as the hub of the system. We never approached the market from a 12 volt audio head unit perspective. We approached it from a smartphone accessory perspective.

Gagliardi notes there are two major tenets to their business plan. “First, smartphones and tablets are revolutionizing the personal computer industry and have become portable personal communication devices that make a very personal statement about who you are. Some consumers want to personalize their smartphone and have access to it 24/7, so in-vehicle solutions need to remain portable. You bring them into the vehicle and take them with you when you exit the vehicle. Second, smartphone technology is now and will always remain lightyears ahead of car audio head unit technology, so there is no need to duplicate and/or replicate hardware and software. This only limits the capabilities of the offering and removes choice from the end user.”

Usually, we would take the second tenet as fighting words in our industry. However, we have seen customers who are just infatuated with the iPhone, and if it could brush their teeth twice a day, they would let it. For these users, the iRoc makes perfect sense. The only thing limiting the iRoc is screen size—you are relegated to the iPhone screen. However, there are plans in the works for an iPad version, which would introduce a nearly 10” screen into the vehicle. Hey, the new Lexus GS now leads the pack with a whopping 12” screen from the factory. Integrators, get your ABS plastic and fiberglass ready!

We asked Gagliardi about the potential for growth in our industry. “From the start, we aligned ourselves with intermediaries to provide off-shore manufacturing and give us quick access to new technology innovations. We don’t intend on reinventing the wheel. Our goal is to establish partnerships with major players in each market segment. We have been in the market for three months and are at the beginning stages of establishing our distribution channels. We have signed reseller agreements with independent installation companies, and a major Internet consumer electronics company, but it is very early in the cycle and we are still working on the best recipe for success. 

“Our intention is to move iRoc into distribution for the consumer segment, and we are discussions with two major distributors in the U.S. At this point we are generating a lot of interest in the consumer segment, but we are in the early stages of getting the technology adopted in the market. Independent resellers see the value and agree with the vision. We anticipate that once we get iRoc into distribution, and launch our iPad adapter and DIN2 iRoc, we will have a total Apple solution for the infotainment side of the equation and an installed base to launch the telematics capabilities. The next frontier is the Android OS.”

For those interested in more of a traditional head unit with a ‘hybrid’
iPhone display approach, your customer might love the Dual XDMA6540. This makes sense for those who really want to take advantage of satellite or HD Radio but don’t live in the best areas of cell service. This way, a specialized antenna can be fitted to the roof or trunk deck. 

The XDMA6540 provides connectivity to many of today’s popular mobile devices, including the ubiquitous iPhone, and offers built-in Bluetooth with support for hands-free calling (HFP), audio-streaming (A2DP) and player control (AVRCP) profiles. The unit has a full graphic LCD with an RGB Custom Color feature, which allows users to choose from over 32,000 color combinations for the LCD and button illumination.

The XDMA6540 is also Dual’s first receiver to be SiriusXM-Ready and HD Radio Ready. The XDMA6540 boasts a revamped faceplate design with a red arrow Mode Indicator for ease of use. It includes Dual’s new Adjustable Portable Device Mount, which attaches to the front of the receiver and securely holds portable electronics in place, within the driver’s reach.

“The Portable Device Mount provides added value for today’s connected consumer,” said Robb Groner, vice president of product development. “As consumers increasingly use their smartphones for navigation and music streaming, device integration into the head unit is not only a matter of convenience, but also safety.”

With an MSRP of $199, it’s a pretty decent solution that still gives the ability to listen to some tunes for a quick trip down the block if you want to leave your phone in your pocket. And it keeps the iPhone in plain sight. 



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