Ford

Ford: Web radio-friendly Sync now in 4 million vehicles

Tuesday, May 29, 2012 - 11:10am

Ford SyncFord announced at this week's Future in Review tech conference that its Sync system is now in 4 million cars in the U.S. No word on usage, though, or how that compares to to the total number of new cars Ford has sold lately.

Sync supports web radio playback from services like Pandora, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, Slacker and Stitcher via a connected smartphone. It was introduced in 2007. You can find more RAIN coverage of Ford's Sync system here, here and here. Engadget has more coverage of today's news here.

Ford's chief interior designer hoping to soon remove in-car CD players

Tuesday, May 15, 2012 - 12:20pm

Ford dashboardFord's chief interior designer is "looking forward to the day when automotive designers get rid of CD players."

"That’s oceanfront property when you are talking about the center stack," Michael Arbaugh told the Detroit Free Press. "I think anybody under 30 is probably using all MP3 devices. They don’t buy CDs."

Throwing out the CD player would help with fuel efficiency, said Arbaugh, and "free up critical space... where technology is offering other choices." Among those choices are smartphone-friendly systems that more easily allow in-car web radio playback.

"Shedding the CD player is part of a larger trend in automotive infotainment," wrote Automotive News earlier this year (RAIN coverage here). "Content and computing power are migrating to smartphones."

You can find more from the Detroit Free Press here.

RAIN "test drives" variety on in-car web radio setups at the Chicago Auto Show

Friday, February 17, 2012 - 10:00am

Chicago Auto ShowNearly a third of motorists in the U.S. want streaming media in their cars, according to the Gartner consultancy. And a Deloitte survey found that 72% of car buyers age 19-31 want smartphone app compatibility, and 59% said car connectivity is the most important aspect of a car's interior. So how is the auto industry responding to such demands?

Yesterday RAIN braved the crowds at the Chicago Auto Show to find out. After stopping back at least half a dozen auto-makers, we were struck by the variety of ways drivers can now listen to nearly any web radio service through their car speakers.

Indeed, though some manufacturers offer slick touchscreens that display album art and now playing info, these systems really only make it easier to do what most new models can already do through Bluetooth, USB or audio-jack connections. Most of the basic systems even allow control of web radio streams (using play, pause, and skip buttons on the steering wheel or dashboard). 

Pandora on MyLink in a Chevy MalibuGM's MyLink system (pictured left, playing Pandora) appeared to be one of the easiest systems to use. We tested the set-up in a 2013 Chevy Malibu Eco, which featured a touchscreen filled with iPad-like icons.

It offered options for Pandora and Stitcher, though it could stream any web radio or music content via Bluetooth or USB. MyLink supports Andriod and iPhone. Its available in the 2012 Verano, LaCrosse, Regal and Enclave -- according to the representative we spoke to, MyLink will be offered standard in most of those models by the end of the year. (Note: MyLink for Buick and GMC is confusingly dubbed IntelliLink).

Audi's in-car web set-up (pictured right, playing Pandora) was the most advanced and differed from others in not needing a smartphone for some web tasks. Instead, the car connects to the web itself using T-Mobile's network. Alas, the setup -- called Audi Connect -- doesn't include streaming web radio, which still requires a Bluetooth-connected iPhone or Android. However, you can connect to the Audi's in-car Wi-Fi and not drain your monthly data plan.

Audi Connect playing Pandora from a connected iPhoneAudi offered another nice touch: even though there's no in-dash web radio "app," per se, the dashboard screen does offer now playing metadata from web radio services.

BMW's system wasn't on display, but reps said it supported Pandora and MOG (though only through iPhones). Again, their cars include Bluetooth and USB support for playing any web radio or audio content.

The same was true of Volvo and Infiniti, though neither had in-dash support for apps like other manufacturers.

The most confusing system by far was Ford's MyFord Touch, which offered a mind-boggling interface that was nearly impossible for us to use. Much better was Ford's "basic" Sync system (pictured below left, in the process of creating a new Pandora station), which relies on voice commands rather than a touch screen. Those commands can control Slacker, iHeartRadio, Pandora or Stitcher (through a connected smartphone). You can even thumbs-up songs on Pandora or start new stations using voice commands.

Ford's basic Sync system

Toyota's EnTune system was strangely not available for a "test drive," even though it was prominently featured throughout their floorspace. EnTune supports iHeartRadio and Pandora (again, it requires a connected smartphone).

Both Toyota and Ford can stream any audio or web radio content via Bluetooth, USB or aux-in ports, which appeared to be available in most models.

In the end, it was clear that car manufacturers' "support" for certain apps like Pandora or iHeartRadio -- while most certainly helpful, both to drivers and the services -- isn't really necessary to listen to Internet radio while driving. All you need for that is a smartphone, web radio app and Bluetooh, a USB cord or an auxiliary audio cable.

Other observations from the Auto Show:

  • In-car hard drives for music (and video!) were common. BMW, for example, offers a built-in 12GB hard drive in some models, while Audi offers two SD card slots in the dashboard. As one BMW rep told us, "Why worry about your iPod or iPhone when your car is basically an iPod?"
     
  • Most models listed support for SiriusXM and even HD radio, but these felt almost expected, like having cup holders. Pandora and smartphone support appeared to be promoted more on banner and displays.
     
  • That said, some car reps were on shaky ground when discussing Internet radio support (though, in all fairness, they were probably expecting more questions about transmissions than the capabilities of Bluetooth audio streaming).
     
  • One Toyota rep told us he uses Bluetooth support in his own Toyota car to listen to YouTube music videos while driving. That stuck me as a fascinating insight into how consumers listen to music (as well as yet another reason to be cautious while driving).

Plenty of web radio-sporting models to be found in Chicago Tribune's "must-see" list for Chicago Auto Show

Thursday, February 9, 2012 - 12:45pm

Toyota's NS4 concept carThe Chicago Tribune's thorough list of "vehicles not to miss" at the 2012 Chicago Auto Show includes quite a few models that support Internet radio.

There's the 2013 Acura ILX, for one, which will be debuted at the auto show and includes in-dash Pandora support. And the 2013 Ford Fusion will include the web radio-friendly SYNC system standard.

The Code 130R and Tru 140S concept cars from Chevy apparently boast built-in Wi-Fi connectivity, while Toyota's NS4 hybrid concept (pictured) includes an in-dash multi-touch screen to control everything from music to A/C.

The Tribune also recommends checking out the 2013 Buick Encore, 2013 Cadillac ATS, 2013 Ford Escape and the Toyota Prius c -- all of which can stream Internet radio in some way. You can find the Tribune's article here.

News from CES: Clear Channel opens iHeart API; FM on Blackberry; NPR on Ford's AppLink; and new partners for Pandora, Slacker

Tuesday, January 10, 2012 - 9:00am

Here's more news from the Consumer Electronics Show happening now in Las Vegas:

Clear Channel Radio is making available its iHeartRadio API (application programming interface). The Developer Program will enable anyone to develop web pages and applications that integrate iHeartRadio content and services. The iHeartRadio API includes access to live broadcast and digital-only stations, the Custom Stations feature, and social media integration. Developers can learn more about the Developer Program here.

Blackberry maker Research In Motion will add FM radio capability to two current BlackBerry models, the Curve 9360 or 9380. Owners simply need to download a new app to be able to tune to local FM.

Ford has added voice-control of NPR's mobile app to its Sync AppLink. Listeners will be able to create playlists of stories and programs to listen to later, or select from topics and then call them up via voice command.

Pandora announced new partnerships in the automotive sector with Acura, Kia, and Audiovox; plus another partner for in-home entertainment, satellite television provider Dish Network. Pandora says its service is now available on more than 450 consumer electronic devices, and they have partnerships with 16 automotive OEM brands and 7 aftermarket manufacturers.

Net radio provider Slacker announced content partnerships with American Public Media and The Weather Channel. Slacker will now offer programs from APM like "Marketplace" and "The Current," as well as customizable weater forecasts and updates.

1/25: RAIN offers handy guide to in-car dashboard web radio systems

Friday, December 23, 2011 - 11:00am

Whew! It’s been a whirlwind couple of weeks for in-car Internet radio. Nearly every major car maker (and a slew of third-party retailers) has introduced some sort of dashboard Net radio system. And frankly, it’s tough to keep track of it all. That’s why today RAIN presents a round-up of in-car Internet radio... (read more here)

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