Look Ma — (Almost) No Knobs!

The Connected Car and Truck of the Year feature HondaLink

The Road Warrior writes about both connected cars and audio tools for radio reporters. This is one in his series of articles about trends in new car dashboards of interest to radio people.

The 2016 North American Car of the Year, Honda’s Civic, is a connected car with HondaLink.
Honda’s Ridgeline, the 2017 North American Truck of the Year, is equipped with HondaLink.

HondaLink is the infotainment system that drivers will find in the center stack of vehicles like the 2016 North American Car of the Year, the Honda Civic, and the 2017 North American Truck of the Year, the Honda Ridgeline. HondaLink is available or is standard equipment on all Honda vehicles sold in the United States.

The infotainment system manages optional navigation functions, vehicle alerting and control and connection to the outside world via data connection and AM/FM/HD and satellite radio. It also supports Apple Car Play and Android Auto functions.

Among the apps pre-loaded in HondaLink is the iHeart Radio app, which will find its way to the back seat and interactive touchscreens of the 2018 Odyssey.

The majority of HondaLink-equipped vehicles use the data plan from an imported smartphone to power all the functions. At CES 2017, Honda announced that the 2018 Odyssey minivan would add 4G LTE Wi-Fi capability when it goes on sale. Updates for HondaLink are downloaded by cable at the Honda dealership.

The HondaLink interface uses touchscreen and voice to control tuning and radio functions. When the system boots up, there’s a radio choice on the menu; selecting that will yield further choices, as the user goes further down into the menu.

Home Screen for HondaLink in the Honda Ridgeline.
Credit: Honda North America

Why did the company opt for a touchscreen interface for the radio, as opposed to traditional volume and tuning knobs?

Honda spokesman Brad Nelson said, “We constantly work to improve the functionality and usability of our vehicles’ features during model development cycles. The Display Audio touchscreen conveniently allows the user to control multiple features, such as the audio system, connectivity options, display settings, HVAC, etc., by swiping, tapping and pinching — just like on a tablet or smartphone.”

Once I learned the touchscreen, it was easy to adjust volume, tune stations and enable HD Radio reception. There’s one change for the Odyssey: The volume knob returns to the dash.

A radio screen in the 2018 Honda Odyssey minivan.
Credit: Honda North America
A forest of choices for those in the 2018 Honda Odyssey equipped with HondaLink.
Credit: Honda North America

Nelson said HD Radio capability was built into the audio head end that is controlled by HondaLink and is not a part of HondaLink itself.

One stumbling block with the infotainment systems in connected cars is the “menu diving” necessary to optimize the system for the driver and passenger. As system capabilities increase, Honda is developing an owner tutorial to reflect those additions.

Nelson says, “We encourage the dealers to make this a delivery best practice item as we expand the capabilities within the HondaLink app to meet rising customer demands.”

So what does this mean for stations who wish to reach listeners who drive Hondas? Those stations that transmit music identification and other info on RDS must make sure the data is accurate and entered; those transmitting an HD Radio signal must make sure best engineering practices that have been discussed elsewhere in Radio World are followed. For all stations, it means ensuring that the content is compelling enough for those listeners to encourage them to go through the menus to find that content.

If you have suggestions for this feature or questions about connected cars and how they impact the radio ecosystem, send them to radioworld@nbmedia.com. Answers may appear in a future installment.

Paul Kaminski is the host of msrpk.com’s “Radio-Road-Test” and is in his 20th year as a contributor and columnist for Radio World. His Twitter handle is msrpk_com; Facebook: PKaminski2468.



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