Steve Goldstein: Car infotainment systems are in the slow lane

steve goldstein press march 2015 canvasSteve Goldstein’s Amplifi Media works with media companies and podcasters in developing audio content strategies. This column was originally published on Blogstein, the Amplifi blog.

In spite of the onslaught of audio from a variety of sources including satellite radio, streaming radio, owned music, podcasts and new sources including devices such as Amazon’s Echo, linear radio has held up rather well.

Many in the business claim it is the high appeal programming. Certainly that is a significant factor.

Some claim ubiquity and ease of use help keep radio in the game. That must be a factor too. Punching up the AM/FM buttons in the car is mighty easy.

It is also possible that a good deal of radio’s longevity can be credited to remarkably lame infotainment technology in automobiles. These difficult to learn systems have greatly impeded growth of smartphone use and other audio sources in radio’s last moat.

Largely, infotainment systems in cars have been an epic fail.  They can be weird, ugly and hard to figure out.

In today’s Wall Street Journal, personal tech writer Joanna Stern says; “I’ve uncovered the world’s dumbest computer… in my car’s dashboard.”

Today, people express frustration with byzantine audio menus in cars, and annoyance with tethering their Bluetooth enabled smartphones.  However, people are more determined than ever to unlock the trove of content on their smartphones and move beyond being limited to AM and FM in their vehicles.

Stern provides a guide to replacing the car’s poor voice control and moving to easier and more hospitable software including Apple’s CarPlay and Google’s Android Auto.  She digs into the best car mounts so people can use their smartphones safely.

Most car manufacturers have been in the slow lane when it comes to building a good audio experience. Many people have reluctantly opted out in frustration and in the short term, that’s been good for traditional radio.  The car companies, however, are improving and the software is getting better so with each new car and each new smartphone, it is becoming significantly easier for people to be empowered and use the content they have curated on their phones.

The bottom line – people want greater control of their mobile listening experience, and as the Journal article illustrates, will go to great lengths to get there. As that happens, radio’s wide-moat in the car will shrink at a much faster pace.

Watch the car ads on TV.  Ask a car dealer what sells cars these days.  Connectivity is what moves vehicles.

Radio should be thankful that the car companies bungled the infotainment experience.  But the car companies are getting smarter.  And so are the listeners.

Steve Goldstein