Each year, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) becomes the epicenter of digital hype. Manufacturers large and small roll out new products hoping that their’s will be the next big thing.
This year’s keynote address was delivered by Ford CEO’s Alan Mulally. He announced MyFord Touch, an evolution of Synch, Ford’s multimedia digital cockpit. Read the live breathless account of the address on Engadget here and ZDNet’s write-up here.
Ford intends to integrate web browsing, email, Internet radio, Satellite, and even an AM/FM radio into a single console display. As the engadget shot to the left shows, the driver can listen to Pandora, answer the phone, get directions, and adjust the air conditioning, all while stuck in traffic.
This is part of a broader trend of digital hype shifting to mobile platforms. Digital hype has a relatively short shelf life. Pundits can only spend a few years predicting that digital will radically change some aspect of our lives before it becomes clear that their predictions are grossly exaggerated. The pundits must move on and find some other aspect of our lives to focus on.
Today we are being told that digital will transform our automobiles. Our vehicles will become mobile offices and entertainment centers. All the things that we now do in our homes and businesses we will be able to do in our automobiles.
If true, it could have serious implications for radio. The motor vehicle is a key bastion of radio listening. A significant proportion of radio time spent listening takes place in cars and trucks.
Fortunately, CES hype rarely correlates with marketplace success. Google any previous CES and you’ll find dozens of examples of radio killers announced with great fanfare that had no impact on radio.
At last year’s CES Acoustic Research announced their Infinite Radio, a streaming WiFi clock radio. You can buy one through Amazon along with a couple of other Internet radios, but they aren’t exactly flying off the shelf. The year before, the hot radio was TORIAN’s InFusion Internet radio. Despite a great deal of hype surrounding what would have been the first truly portable Internet radio, it never made it to market.
Now, in addition to Ford’s digital Swiss Army knife approach, Alpine has announced a car stereo that eliminates the CD player and replaces it with a Pandora interface:
The iDA-X305S is able to control the Pandora app on a connected iPhone 3G or 3GS, streaming your user-created radio stations over a 3G data connection and out of your vehicle's speakers. Users should be able to log in and access all of the Pandora app's functions using the X305S' 2.2-inch color display and double-action rotary encoder knob, including viewing album artwork and tracking metadata, changing stations, skipping tracks, giving a song the thumbs up and down, and bookmarking songs for later access.
Not to be outdone, Pioneer announced their own Pandora/iPhone device. Here’s how PC Magazine describes the device:
The AVIC-X920BT uses the iPhone as a delivery mechanism, streaming the audio through the receiver. Functions include skipping from track to track, bookmarking, thumbs up/down and changing of stations while playing the audio stream from the phone. Pioneer claims it's all a first for the industry.
So you have to have an iPhone, and much of the unit’s functionality works only with Pandora, which immediately eliminates something like 90% of the potential automotive market. At least the Pioneer unit still has a CD player.
One of the things we’ve learned about digital appliances is that just because an appliance has a feature or function, there’s no guarantee that people will use it. In this space we documented that people spend the majority of time using their iPhone to make calls and read emails. They spend considerably less time using other features of the phone. Users of other smart phones spend an even higher proportion of time using their phone to make phone calls.
What is the evidence that people will embrace Ford’s MyFord Touch or enthusiastically trade their CD player equipped car stereo for one with Pandora? None.
Remember AT&T’s CruiseCast? Probably not. It was a service that streamed 22 video and 20 radio streams to automobiles. Launched in June of last year, it didn’t last to see 2010. MyFord Touch will last a little longer than CruiseCast, but if want to surf the web in your Lincoln you better act quickly.
Just keep in mind that you have to have the car in park to surf. Cool.