The fasting-evolving part of the car is in the dashboard. While it can take up to seven years (or more) for a manufacturer to bring a new model to market, the technology used in infotainment systems is evolving like bacteria. And so are our relationships to it.
My wife recently got a brand new SUV. Shopping for it was something of an ordeal for her because she hates the process of buying a vehicle. I, on the other land, love it. So the task of finding her next car fell to me. All she cared about was (a) the sightlines; and (b) the color.
Me? I looked for the usual stuff: performance, ride comfort, safety, gas mileage, a place for the bull terrier to ride. But I also wanted gadgetry. I wanted every bit of technology that the manufacture could put in the dashboard.
This caused several, uh, discussions with The Wife.
"I don't need any of this stuff! I won't use it. I don't care about it. Satellite radio? Please. A navigation system? When am I going to us it. A back-up camera? That's what mirrors are for."
However, when all the vehicles, deals, interest rates and rebates were evaluated, the smartest purchase turned out to be a Honda CR-V Touring, the trim line with all the bells and whistles.
"Fine," said The Wife. "As long as I can get it white. I won't use any of this junk in the dashboard. Those are your stupid toys."
A strange thing has happened in the month since she's had her new truck. She's all over satellite radio, especially the Broadway channel (we have vastly different musical tastes). She loves the back-up camera. She hooks up her iPhone like a champ so she can listen to her audiobooks. And once I programmed the sat-nav system to guide her home from wherever she happens to be, she started using that.
A technological luddite--her words, not mine--has taken to her new infotainment system like the bull terrier to that bunny that lives in the garden.
I bring this up because this is not only points to the future of driving but the future of traditional radio. A couple of things from just the last 24 hours:
1. Alan Burns and Associates, a radio consultancy, presented this piece of news: One out of every eight women already has Internet access in her car. From All Access:
Even without a BLUETOOTH dashboard, women are using Internet in their cars via their smartphones," said BURNS. "24% of our sample said they use or listen to the Internet in their cars weekly; 16% do it every day. But usage of built-in access is even higher: almost half the women whose cars are so equipped use the Internet in their cars daily.
Speaking of Honda, they just released their latest in-car connected infotainment system. When rolled out in the 2013 Accord (with more models to follow, of course), HondaLink will not only provide radio, iPod connectivity, a USB port, an aux input and sat-nav, but also connections to Facebook newsfeeds, audiobook libraries, text messages and Internet radio via the touch of a button or through voice command. Easy-peasy.
To activate the service, drivers download HondaLink app and then register it to their specific vehicles. From there, the driver picks from a menu of “channels” on the smartphone, which map to preset “stations” on the dashboard once the phone is linked to the car.
Those channels can be anything from a text-to-speech rendering of your Facebook news feed to Pandora Internet radio presets. Aha says it has 30,000 stations to chose from.
Rather than access those services directly, though, all of the content is funneled through Aha’s servers through the phone and into the dash.
Check out this screen shot. I. Want.
Finally, there's this post by consultant Fred Jacbobs on the coming of the digital dashboard. Look at this graphic.
If I'm a traditional over-the-air radio broadcaster (Wait! I still am! I just don't own any radio stations.) this has me scared shitless. The car has long been the place where people engage in radio the most. As these new listening/entertainment options become more and more ubiquitous, what will that mean for broadcasters?
I love radio. I've spent well over half my life in the industry. I just hope that broadcasters understand exactly what's coming down the tracks at them. And that train is travelling faster and faster.