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Autosound Business Welcomes iPod, MP3 In Its 2005 Offerings

LAS VEGAS — Autosound suppliers are moving quickly to adapt their head units to the Apple iPod and other MP3 players, in one of the most dramatic shifts in autosound in years.

The soaring popularity of the iPod has led suppliers to race to adjust their CD receivers to interface with digital audio players that are becoming a virtual replacement for the CD changer, they said.

Apple alone had shipped more than 6 million iPods as of September 2004. During last year through October, consumers spent $686 million on portable digital players (excluding Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club figures) said NPD Techworld, Port Washington, N.Y.

The first major supplier to offer iPod capability was Alpine in October 2004, which said it shipped over 12,000 of the adapter kits in 45 days.

Alpine is hopeful the iPod craze will lead to an upgrading of car audio. “The real business strategy is to sell more head units by reaching out to a new market that previously would not have considered an after-market head unit purchase,” said VP marketing Steve Witt.

Audio Express, the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based 46-store chain, said it sold 200 Alpine iPod kits as of the end of November and claimed 70 percent of the purchasers were people who already knew about the iPod kit when they walked into the store, according to purchasing manager Paul Gosswiller.

Here at CES other suppliers are jumping on the iPod bandwagon, offering similar kits and adapters including Audiovox, Clarion, Dual, Kenwood and Pioneer as well as Terk, Denison and Monster Cable.

Dan Hodgson, Crutchfield’s development senior VP, said, “It is a type of technology shift that personally, I feel, really changes everything. When you think about what built the after-market audio business, it was transportability — cassettes could transport the music from LPs, and with CDs, you could transport the disc…So my expectation is that CES will be all about the iPod.”

It is uncertain, however, if the shift to iPod compatibility will provide a sufficient boost to overcome autosound’s flagging sales over the last few years.

Gosswiller notes that it “is disappointing that the most exciting product has not come from the car audio side of the table, but from the computer side. It puts us in a very vulnerable position. We have no control over our destiny — the iPods have changed two or three times, at least. It makes it very hard to plan.” But Gosswiller adds that “anything that draws customers is good.”

Among the new iPod-ready car audio products debuting here is the Audiovox iMOBILE Kit that enables an iPod to work with most OEM radios. It can display iPod song title/artist information on the car radio’s screen and lets the user control the iPod functions through the radio or steering wheel controls. It also charges the iPod battery. It will be available in January at a suggested retail price of $200.

Kenwood’s iPod adapter allows full display functionality through Kenwood head units and also doubles as an iPod charger. It will integrate with Kenwood head units through its 5L bus system. Called the KCA-IP500, it is expected to ship in April at a list price of $100.

Pioneer ‘s iPod adapter works with all its head units with CD changer control. The adapter allows users to control their iPod through the radio, and it displays the first eight characters of iPod music files names on the Pioneer display. It will be available in March at a suggested retail price of $120.

Dual is now offering an iPlug adapter module with its new 2005 head units, which lets users play any digital media player through the new receivers.

Terk is introducing a new MP3 car stereo adapter for the iPod and other digital MP3 players. The device works with any player or removable media that accepts a USB connector (such as the Apple iPod and Sony’s Memory Stick) to playback MP3 music through the car’s stereo system.

The MP3 adapter is expected to launch late in the first quarter at a suggested retail price between $50 and $80.

Monster Cable teamed with SoundGate to offer the iCruze, which connects an iPod to the car radio’s CD changer or satellite radio port. Shipping now, the iCruze has a suggested retail price is $199.95.

Denison USA’s new ice Link:Plus works with most OEM and after-market products. It comes in customized versions for different radios and can display iPod album and artist information on many radios. It offers a direct line-in connection through the head units’ CD changer port and comes with a docking cradle at a suggested list price of $199.