The in-car media experience is clearly no longer broadcast radio’s sanctuary, and it looks as if competition in the dashboard will further intensify with Spotify announcing a new aftermarket streaming device called Car Thing.
The rollout of the gadget will allow Spotify diehards to more easily find their fave playlists and podcasts, and stunningly Spotify says the new streaming device will help accelerate its push into live audio, including a feature that will allow podcast hosts to have interactions with listeners.
Spotify, which says Car Thing can be controlled by voice, touchscreen or physical controls, says it seized upon the idea of the dedicated smartplayer to promote a “seamless and personalized in-car listening experience.” Interestingly, the company says the release of Car Thing is not meant to compete with in-car infotainment systems.
“Instead, it’s another step in our larger ubiquity strategy to create a frictionless audio experience for our users,” Spotify says in a promotional statement for Car Thing. Despite the development of the new streaming device, the company says it remains focused on “developing its catalogue of music and podcasts and not on creating hardware.”
From promotional photos, Car Thing appears to be about the size of an average cellphone with a display screen and large round dial that navigates user functions. The case appears to feature four push buttons for pre-sets. The photos show the streaming device clipped to air vents in the center console of a vehicle.
Spotify’s push to “interactivity” with users was fortified with the recent acquisition of Betty Labs, creators of Locker Room, a sports-intensive live audio app. The acquisition last month foreshadowed Spotify’s seemingly new interest in live audio. In fact, Spotify promotes the Car Thing as a “new listening device with live audio experiences” all from “a smartplayer that fills the car with music, news, entertainment, talk and more.”
Some radio industry followers say that description sounds surprisingly very similar to broadcast radio. In addition, Spotify’s moves come at a time when many radio broadcasters are rebranding themselves as “audio” companies. Jerry Del Colliano observed the irony in his Inside Music Media newsletter this week and theorized Spotify might even someday develop personality music shows in order to compete more directly with radio.
Del Colliano pondered: “The more important issue for radio is since they can’t compete with streaming playlists, and the sheer volume of available music discovery and no commercials, [will Spotify] reinvent the morning personality and add one for afternoon drive as well?”
The Spotify-only Car Thing is currently available on an invite-only basis in the United States so most will have to wait. However, Spotify users can join a waiting list, the company says. The device requires a paid Spotify Premium subscription and a smartphone with Wi-Fi or aux cable to connect to the vehicle. Its anticipated retail price is $79.99 plus monthly Premium subscription for ad-free music playlists, according to Spotify.