30 04 2011

The car radio has undergone many changes during our love affair with all things automotive. First there was AM, then AM/FM. During my childhood I witnessed in-dash and aftermarket 8-track models, followed by cassettes. These were then followed by CDs, satellite radio, and more recently, MP3 player jacks.

Yes, we do love to drive with our tunes.

But another revolutions is about to take place. In case you aren’t already sick of apps, get ready for car apps to take over your dashboard. Pioneer’s new AppRadio will rock your ride. Designed to work with your iPhone (and intentionally made to look…ahem…remarkably similar as well), the AppRadio will allow drivers to pull down their Pandora, and push it through their car stereo speakers.

AppRadio is somewhat limited in that the screen will only display selected apps that Pioneer has negotiated rights with (and for) via Apple and the actual app provider. In other words, this is not quite your phone on 8 cylinders, but it is getting close. It can pull your stored music as well as contacts, so control freaks are not limited to the whims of Pandora.

It really is only a matter of time before app-driven car stereos are the norm. There are two paths that can be followed, one being the OnStar path in which the car represents a separate data plan, and the AppRadio path, which piggybacks off your smartphone. As long as you have a sufficient data plan, the latter is the clear choice. Why add yet another$30 to your monthly burden?

The phone/car interface of my dreams would have 100% synchronicity along with speech recognition so I could tweet or FB hands free, as well as summon whatever app I want. Essentially, our smartphones need to be viewed as portable computing/storage devices with 3G connectivity. While a bluetooth interface would be nice, a cabled connection is better (especially if it would also recharge the phone).

As it stands right now, though, the first-gen car app-driven car radios will probably be more dangerous than other radios, simply because they offer one more level of distraction. Even 2nd-gen (with complete mirroring of the iPhone screen) would be dangerous, because then all of the push notifications we currently receive would then appear on the dashboard. Perfect. Just what we need. Target coupons while we are driving.

But we are making progress. If we can patiently plow through these early efforts to marry the phone to the car, we will land in a better place, one that will offer the features of both, but without the hands and fingers required to operate either.

As apps continue to find their way to places heretofore unimaginable, I wonder where they will land next. Our refrigerators? The bathroom mirror? A household master control panel? The soundtrack of our lives is about to follow us wherever we go.

Dr “We Got The Beat” Gerlich



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