A lot of technology forecasters predicted the end of radio when the iPod was introduced. In fact, a Clear Channel executive once noted that any radio format (Top 40, Classic Rock, etc.) can be broken down into a set of just 500 songs for a seven-day period, which can then be rotated and modified slightly from week-to-week.
So why is radio still so popular in the car? OK … maybe not radio, exactly—let’s call it “programming” versus your own canned music. And here’s the answer: It’s because we like new content. It’s also because we like the personal touch of an announcer. And most importantly, we simply don’t have the time or the wherewithal to constantly program our own content. That’s why Pandora has become so popular in the car. Just hit the “thumbs-up” or “thumbs-down,” and it will continually refine the setlist. The only thing missing is the personal touch of an announcer, and most still turn to radio for that.
One thing remains constant—people want entertainment in their vehicles. And whether it comes from a podcast, SiriusXM, AM, FM, Pandora, MOG, or Slacker, there’s still one key hurdle to overcome: getting that content delivered smoothly to the car while the vehicle is blasting down the highway at 70 MPH.
Some OEMs are tinkering with Wi-Fi hotspots that are built right into the vehicle. For example, the Audi and T-Mobile partnership in the Audi A8 sedan. Chrysler is offering a next-generation UConnect Access Wi-Fi service that’ll be coming out first in the 2013 Ram 1500. It’ll cost $35 a month, but will even offer remote start from a smartphone. Luckily for us, not many people are going to splurge for the upgrades package, and that leads to more retrofit work, installing convenience features.
The next generation of products will introduce smartphone gateways to obtain data for aftermarket head units. As long as the OEM integration companies live up to their end of the bargain, there’s a lot of potential for offering cool aftermarket offerings at a much more aggressive price.
While SiriusXM has a monthly service fee, Pandora is free. But it’s up to us to make it work seamlessly for the customer. Any vehicle involving a hardwired Wi-Fi hotspot installation should be tested in a remote location away from the shop. Getting everything to work while it’s sitting in front of the shop garage door is one thing. It’s another to actually go and test a vehicle to make sure it works at a variety of places. So park in front of a Starbucks, for instance, and test the Wi-Fi. Then go drive around to a remote location and try your installation.
Indeed, it’ll definitely open up a can of worms if you inadvertently have a traffic incident in a customer’s vehicle during a test. But it’s well worth the small risk and the time investment to make sure there’s a steady Wi-Fi signal. And if you’ve done your job correctly, you’ll be able to hear the praises of unbelievable entertainment options from what could have been an unbearable, pain-in-the-butt customer.