GM

High speed in-car connectivity could be a threat, but also an opportunity, for radio

Thursday, February 28, 2013 - 11:45am

This week we reported GM will equip several 2014 automobiles with 4G mobile connectivity, enabling data speeds of up to ten times that of 3G connections (see RAIN here). American Public Media's "Marketplace Tech" covered it too, and focused on the implications for traditional AM/FM radio. Its headline: "GM's Internet cars: The end of FM radio?"

Show host David Brancaccio spoke with CNet executive editor Molly Wood, wondering if the new tech would be a "big opportunity, or a big pain-in-the-neck, for regular FM and AM radio stations that also cherish the in-car audience."

"Once this becomes readily available and the price for it is built into the price of the car," Wood said, "I think radio's got a pretty big problem."

Her prediction did come with some caveats. The first is cost. 4G is currently pretty pricey. Next, 4G coverage can still be spotty.

As Brancaccio suggested, however, there's also opportunity here for terrestrial radio. "Some existing radio stations are very strong brands, and if they get ahead of this... it might mean new listeners, not just in their traditional listening area, but across the country," he said.

Wood concurred: "And that is definitely the opportunity. If the content is there, and people want it, I think that's absolutely a huge opportunity. And I do think that there will always be a place for local."

Listen to the full inteview from APM's Marketplace Tech here.

GM to equip 2014 cars with 4G mobile

Monday, February 25, 2013 - 12:00pm

General Motors, a pioneer in car-connectivity with its OnStar system, has fallen behind other automakers in the category (like Ford and its Sync system).

Now GM hopes to leapfrog other car makers by wiring 2014 Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, Cadillac, Opel, and Vauxhall brands in the U.S. and Canada with 4G mobile broadband technology.

This will not only give drivers and passengers connection at ten times the speed of current offerings, but makes the car itself a "virtual smartphone" (most competitors' systems, as well as GM's current MyLink system, pictured, require an actual smartphone be connected to the dash).  The Wall Street Journal reports GM will use AT&T as its 4G provider.

We can't wait to hear more about this and other matters related to in-dash delivery of Internet radio at RAIN Summit West, April 7 in Las Vegas. We'll feature a panel called "Dashboard Discussions" to tackle these issues. Get more info on RAIN Summit West here.

Read more from The Journal 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).
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