The first time anyone offered drivers a chance to customize their musical experience beyond the radio was Chrysler. In the 1950s, they, for a brief time, offered an under-dash turntable. It didn’t go over so well with the motoring public.
Since then, the standard AM radio grew to include FM, 8-tracks, cassettes, CDs and six- and 10-pack changers and satellite radio with many featuring displays that looked like they were designed by a Las Vegas casino. Mono became stereo. Four speakers became six, then eight, then 12 then … well, you know.
But all this is nothing compared to the revolution in automobile entertainment systems that’s just starting to hit.
Consider this: Up to 25 per cent of smart phone/MP3 users already connect their devices to their car speakers. Given how awkward this process can be (FM transmitters, ugly cable connections), this is astounding. One in four!
When it comes to factory equipment, Ford has the early lead with their excellent powered-by-Microsoft Sync system. Want to know how Ford has managed to move so many vehicles in the last couple of quarters? Look no further than the audio systems they’re offering in selected models. They’ve also just announced their AppLink system which will allow smart phone developers to seamlessly link their apps with Sync. It will be ridiculously easy to stream, say, Internet radio, from your smart phone through your Ford, complete with all sort of nifty hands-free voice commands. Ford says they’ve had more than a thousand proposals so far.
Selected Audi vehicles offer always-on Internet through a 3G connection. That means you can be rolling down any road at any speed and be continuously connected to the Internet. What’s more is that the Audi system creates a local Wi-Fi network within the car so that the kids can surf the web from their smart phones, iPads or laptops in the back seat.
GM, Volkswagen, Kia and a growing number of manufacturers are working on similar systems. Pandora has a deal with GM to get their streaming service into your next Chevy Malibu (but not in Canada, don’t get me started on why not). Meanwhile, after market manufactures like Audiovox are touting car radio units that will stream tens of thousands of Internet radio stations.
This ain’t your grandfather’s AM radio. And it’s way better than playing records in the car.