JUST because your car was made in the pre-iPhone era, doesn't mean you can't teach it some new digital tricks. A stereo system upgrade can add not only built-in navigation, but also support for smartphone apps.
Pioneer is already on to its second-generation AppRadio 2, which now supports iPhone 4 and 4S models and more than a dozen Android phones. The $499 receiver has a seven-inch touch screen, an AM/FM radio and Bluetooth. The system has no CD player. It relies on connected smartphones for playing tunes instead.
Music can be streamed from Pandora and Rdio, for example, and there are plenty of driving-centric apps, including Waze and Inrix Traffic, to help avoid road congestion. There's even a Best Parking app that will direct drivers to the cheapest garage near them (it covers 43 cities and 79 airports). The AppRadio supports more than two dozen apps, with additional ones being added.
If you still have a CD collection, Sony's XAV-701HD, with a seven-inch touch screen, is a better option and may have advantages for Android owners. In addition to playing discs, the $700 XAV-701HD can receive HD Radio stations, works with Bluetooth and supports Pandora streaming music from iPhone, Android and BlackBerry phones.
However, its real strength lies in that it is one of the first in-car receivers to support the MirrorLink communications standard for Android phones. MirrorLink is intended to make it easier for cars, stereos and handsets to talk to one another and share information on-screen. Unfortunately, only a handful of Android phones support MirrorLink.
If all you want to do is stream Pandora stations into your car, most stereo and navigation makers offer compatible models, including Jensen, JVC and Kenwood. The Pandora app on Alpine's top-of-line INE-Z928HD works with iPhone, BlackBerry and Android phones, but the unit is costly, $1,500, with a generous eight-inch screen with built-in navigation, free lifetime traffic reports, HD radio (for digital broadcasts) and Bluetooth for hands-free calling.
When choosing a receiver like the models mentioned from Pioneer, Sony and Alpine, shoppers should use a professional installer, who will charge about $100 to set everything up correctly. If the cost or trouble of replacing the unit in your dashboard is too daunting, iPhone owners have a simpler, less expensive alternative.
Clarion's $270 NextGate looks like an oversized portable navigation device but is in fact an iPhone app controller that sits on the dash. Just download Clarion's Smart Access app and plug an iPhone 4 or 4S into the NextGate and the seven-inch touch screen will give you access to apps customized for in-car use.
It enables drivers to tap into Inrix Traffic, thousands of stations from TuneIn, custom Pandora channels and even special Twitter and Facebook apps without looking down at the phone.
Apple iPhone fans should be aware of one major caveat when looking to make an in-car connection: most existing multimedia models will not work properly with the new iPhone 5, even with an adapter.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.