Given the widespread adoption of Bluetooth wireless for in-car telephone calling and music streaming, it would be easy to write off Lightning connector-equipped car accessories as… decreasingly important. Any recent car with Bluetooth audio probably also has a USB port built in for Apple device charging and audio output, letting many people integrate iPhones, iPods, or iPads with cars using nothing more than a budget Lightning-to-USB cable.

But that’s not true for everyone. At CES in January, Griffin showed two new car accessories designed to help Apple users whose cars lack USB ports and Bluetooth. iTrip Bluetooth (aka iTrip Bluetooth Aux) hit stores a couple of months ago, turning any aux-only car stereo into a Bluetooth music receiver. This week, it was joined by iTrip AUX ($50, aka iTrip AUX with AutoPilot), which provides a one-connection charging, audio, and remote control solution for any Lightning-connector iPad, iPhone, or iPod. It has 2.4-Amp power output, capable of refueling any of these devices at peak speed, plus a line-out audio port, and an integrated three-button remote control. If Bluetooth sound quality isn’t good enough for you, or you value a single-connection charging and audio solution, this could be a viable car accessory…

Key Details:

  • A single accessory combining 2.4-Amp car charging, high-quality line-out audio, and a three-button remote control
  • Lightning plug is case-compatible, no need to separately connect cable to headphone port
  • Very basic remote may or may not be accessible in your car
  • Made by an experienced, long-term Apple car accessory maker

iTrip AUX’s full “iTrip AUX with AutoPilot” name harkens back to more than a few long-abandoned Griffin accessories, including the classic iTrip FM transmitters, the combination car FM transmitter and remote control iTrip AutoPilot, and too many Griffin “AUX” accessories to count. Although the word “iTrip” adds unnecessary confusion to this product — there’s no FM transmitter or other wireless broadcasting in iTrip AUX — it’s becoming obvious that Griffin liked the name enough to keep it around for car accessories.

The most familiar piece of iTrip AUX is the 2.4-Amp Lightning charger — a black plastic car charging bulb, permanently connected to a 40″-long Lightning cable. Griffin’s cable is highly case-compatible, and the length will be adequate to reach a dashboard-mounted iPhone even if the charging bulb is connected at floor level, or in the center armrest of a mid-sized car. But that’s true of most Lightning car chargers; if this was all iTrip AUX brought to the table for $50, it would be in a lot of trouble, since you can get a 2.4A Lightning car charger now for $16 from Anker, which also sells a two-port version (with one Lightning cable) for $20.

It’s actually the AUX part that makes iTrip AUX less common. The same Lightning connector used for power also handles your iPad, iPhone, or iPod audio, a feature that used to be super-common with 30-pin Apple Dock Connector car accessories but faded away after Lightning was released. With iTrip AUX, you only need to connect one cable to your Apple device for charging and audio, rather than also plugging an audio cable into your iPad, iPhone, or iPod headphone port. Griffin’s long-term expertise in Apple car accessories enables iTrip AUX to actually sound good: songs are cleaner and a bit more dynamic than with Bluetooth, though the quality difference versus a great wireless connection isn’t night-and-day.

To that end, Griffin includes a 41″ detachable audio cable that plugs into iTrip AUX’s left side, using an L-shaped connector for strain relief. Connect it once to your car’s aux-in port and every subsequent connection with your Apple device will be simple. I personally believe that this ease-of-connectivity is worth at least a small premium over a plain car charger, but Griffin’s premium isn’t small. On the other hand, competing solutions have claimed to offer similar functionality, but complaints of case incompatibility and car battery drain are common, while iTrip AUX works properly.

To help justify the asking price, Griffin includes one more feature: the AutoPilot remote control. AutoPilot has always meant “three button remote with track back/track forward/play-pause controls,” and that’s exactly what’s here, with no frills. By “no frills,” I mean that you can’t even hold the play/pause button down to trigger Siri. Depending on how your car’s set up, and the Apple device you’re using, that may not matter: your device may be closer to you than the car charging bulb, and thus the AutoPilot controls. If your car has a cigarette lighter/car power port easily accessible near your car stereo, AutoPilot may make a lot of sense. But if the power port is close to the floor or inside a center console/armrest, the remote controls may well be unusable.