Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now


CE, Automakers Shape Radio’s Center Stack Role

Car companies and receiver manufacturers throw the kitchen sink into the dash

Automakers are talking about “connectivity.” This futuristic display by Hyundai highlights the blueLink connected vehicle system using telematics to gather vehicle care information; Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are integrated.
Photo by Leslie Stimson Through its location in dashboards and center stacks of modern automotive infotainment systems, AM and FM radio is, at least at present, part of the “connected car” trend. But pressure on radio’s legacy position in the dash could be sensed at the recent International Consumer Electronics Show, where car technology plays an increasing role.

Here are some of the developments at the CES of interest to radio engineers and managers.

A record 10 automotive manufacturers showcased technologies this January including Audi, BMW, Chrysler, Ford, GM, Hyundai, Mazda, Mercedes, Mini, Toyota and Volkswagen. Show organizers emphasized this trend.

“As the car has become more connected, we have seen the popularity of in-vehicle technologies increase as well,” said CEA President/CEO Gary Shapiro as the show opened. “From connectivity to autonomous driving technologies to other rapidly evolving innovations, consumers today view in-vehicle technology as an important factor in their buying decisions.”

CEA industry forecasts predict sales of factory-installed vehicle technologies will increase by 3 percent in 2015 to $11.3 billion. Connected systems, like General Motors’ OnStar and Ford Sync, offer infotainment, communication, safety and driver assistance services. CEA consumer research shows approximately 30 percent of U.S. households now own a vehicle with a communications, safety or entertainment system.

While radio is no longer the undisputed king of the dashboard, it remains part of the infotainment portion of these services. Yet the dash is increasingly crowded. AM, FM and HD Radio exist alongside Internet radio services, satellite radio and personal music choices the driver brings on a device into the vehicle.

As automakers and their receiver manufacturing partners design infotainment system controls, we can expect to hear more about safety considerations. Manufacturers believe some drivers will never stop texting and driving; but current or planned integrations of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are trying to curb or stop that behavior.

Those new technologies enable users to control various smartphone apps through a car’s infotainment system using either touchscreen or voice control.

Many auto and receiver manufacturers echoed GM Chief Infotainment Officer Philip Abram, who said: “We’re never going to turn a car into a smartphone. Its job is to take you and your family from here to there. It’s a 3,500-pound device, so thank goodness it takes time to validate everything.”

GM, like most automakers and CE manufacturers at the show, wants consumers to experience its integration of both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay; the consumer decides what device or system to connect to the car, not the manufacturer.

During Android Auto and Apple CarPlay demonstrations, as well as demos of various infotainment system upgrades coming onto the market this year, the driver wirelessly connects his or her smartphone into the dash. Using a wired connection, it seems, is sopassé.

When these new controls and upgrades are in place, the user’s phone screen is nearly blank so the driver is less distracted; he or she can look at the simpler radio display, or use voice commands to make or receive a call or to have email or text messages read aloud, for example. The driver can also use buttons on the steering wheel or touch the center display to accomplish these actions. The overall goal is less distraction.

While these trends in the dash play out, automakers also are looking farther ahead, to a future when automobiles won’t require hands-on driver control. Some experts believe cars will be safer if humans don’t drive, especially in congested urban conditions, and instead let the car do the work, presumably faster and more accurately. Further, some say, if we consumers are just sitting in the vehicle for much of the commute, we’ll be a more attentive, captive audience for manufacturers and advertisers to sell to us.

For now, automakers continue to pitch telematics services as a way of obtaining automatic software updates and vehicle safety services and notifications, in addition to infotainment.

Other trends observed at CES that affect radio: There are fewer actual radio models in the aisles of consumer electronics stores, station engineers tell Radio World — a sentiment confirmed by conversations with CE manufacturers.

The trend developed because more often, radio now is part of another device that performs multiple functions, and/or it’s an application.

Meanwhile, the number of CD receivers shipping in car dashboards or as aftermarket offerings continues to decline, as manufacturers produce more models without a CD slot. They are making this change because younger consumers aren’t driving around with CDs in their cars, preferring to download or borrow music files.

More show developments are below; and we’ll have news about HD Radio and NextRadio from CES next issue.

Kenwood plans to release a multimedia receiver that includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto in a single unit in late May.KENWOOD DEBUTS MULTIMEDIA RECEIVER WITH APPLE CARPLAY, ANDROID AUTO

Kenwood plans approximately 40 product introductions in 2015. Many of its models “push connectivity to new levels,” according to the manufacturer.

Probably the top feature consumers want is wireless connectivity, the manufacturer told Radio World. “Consumers don’t want to plug anything into the dash anymore, and we’re trying to accommodate that,” said Kenwood USA Senior Marketing Manager Scott Caswell.

Kenwood anticipates late-May release of the DDX9902S, the first receiver in its lineup that includes Apple CarPlay, what it characterizes as a smarter, safer way to use iPhones in a vehicle.

The multimedia receiver will also include the Android Auto smartphone interface.

“We understand that consumers are loyal to the brand or platform of smartphone they use,” says Kenwood Marketing Manager Tony Mercado. “To that end, we wanted to create a multimedia receiver that doesn’t force the customer to choose based on his or her preferred smartphone.”

The DDX9902S features a high-sensitivity touch screen. With CarPlay, familiar apps are within easy reach and display just the right amount of information, according to the receiver maker.

The unit’s interface encourages the driver to use Siri to control, read and reply to messages and more by speaking. Siri also provides access to music, podcasts and other third-party apps, and augments Apple Maps for voice-controlled navigation.

With Android Auto, the menu bar allows drivers to select sources, including navigation, phone and music. Integration with Google Now shows cards to provide users with location- and preference-aware information at the right time, and voice recognition and playback deliver information to the driver.

Aside from the smartphone interfaces, the DDX9902S is a Kenwood multimedia center. Bluetooth integration enables phone calls and wireless music from a paired smartphone. An MHL-supported HDMI input connects to iPhone 5 and 6 models, as well as select Android-based smartphones, to charge the device, control compatible on-device apps and play its audio and video content on the receiver.

The unit includes AM/FM and HD Radio capability. Built-in control of Pandora and iHeartRadio expand music choices when using a smartphone’s broadband connection.

The DDX-9902S is SiriusXM-Ready and connects to the latest SiriusXMSXV300 Connect Vehicle Tuner, which is sold separately.

The Kenwood-branded unit will list for $700, and the premium Exelon version will list for $750, according to Kenwood staff.

Also planned for 2015 sale are single-DIN, full-screen multimedia receiver to fit older vehicles and specialized applications.

Three of the five Pioneer second-generation NEX in-dash multimedia receivers will feature Android Auto; this is the AVIC-8100NEX. The three also include HD Radio.PIONEER BRINGS ANDROID AUTO TO CURRENT CARS

Pioneer Electronics aims to be among the first to offer Android Auto-compatible aftermarket products. The company began offering its first integration of Apple CarPlay in October 2014.

Three of the five Pioneer second-generation Networked Entertainment Experience, or NEX, in-dash multimedia receivers, will feature Android Auto. They are the AVIC-8100NEX, AVIC-7100NEX and AVH-4100NEX.

All three include HD Radio, the company tells Radio World.

The Android Auto integration enables consumers to connect their compatible smartphones. Android Auto promises an intuitive interface and voice actions for minimized distraction, according to Pioneer.

HD Radio is on the first screen displayed; AM/FM can be as well. During a demo, Radio World found users can customize in what order they want the icons and text to be displayed.

Integrating Android Auto into its second-generation NEX receivers provides compatible Android smartphone owners the ability to use the power and connectivity of their devices for navigation, communications and music, according to Ted Cardenas, vice president of marketing for the Car Electronics Division of Pioneer Electronics USA, who stated: “Android Auto delivers a familiar and consistent user experience that is optimized specifically for the automotive environment with advanced speech technology for quick and easy voice control and a unique visual display of useful and relevant contextual information.”

Three of the five Pioneer second-generation NEX in-dash multimedia receivers will feature Android Auto; this is the AVIC-8100NEX. The three also include HD Radio. Pioneer’s Android Auto compatible units feature high-resolution 7-inch touchscreen displays, an external microphone for hands-free calling and voice control, and a wired remote input used for optional integration with factory installed steering wheel audio controls.

Additional features on compatible NEX models include Bluetooth connectivity and compatibility with Apple CarPlay and MirrorLink. The units include Pioneer’s AppRadio Mode and Pandora; all are SiriusXM-ready with an additional tuner.

The AVIC-8100NEX lists for $1,400 and the AVIC-7100NEX lists for $1,200; the AVH-4100NEX, anticipated to hit store shelves in March, is expected to list for $700.

Android Auto compatibility will be available in the first quarter of 2015 in the U.S., UK and Australia.

Alpine of America makes the iLX-007, an aftermarket in-dash receiver designed to be compatible with Apple CarPlay; it is available in North American markets.
Photo by Leslie StimsonALPINE INTRODUCES

The iLX-007 is an aftermarket in-dash receiver from Alpine of America, designed to be compatible with Apple CarPlay. It is available in North American markets.

“The iLX-007 showcases the most used iPhone features in a manner that is simple and relevant for in-vehicle use,” said Alpine VP/GM Steve Crawford in an announcement.

A spokeswoman tells Radio World the unit has enabled Alpine to expand its customer base beyond car audio enthusiasts.

The iLX-007 has a 7-inch capacitive touch screen; through Apple CarPlay, iPhone users can make and receive calls, access text messages, play music and get driving directions with a touch or by using Siri voice control. Corresponding audio, driving directions and phone calls are played through the vehicle’s speaker system. Users may set destinations through a conversational command to Siri.

Apple CarPlay is compatible with iPhone 5 and later, including iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus and the latest version of iOS. The iLX-007 lists for $800 SRI at Alpine retailers.

The unit is compatible with Alpine’s TuneIt, a free sound-settings app that offers Facebook notifications.

Alpine has also expanded its 9-inch dash system “restyle” program for trucks and SUVs. With this program, the receiver manufacturer targets large truck and SUV owners who want to customize their audio system. The centerpiece is the X009, a multi-function system with audio, video and navigation features and HD Radio.

The X009 is paired with vehicle-specific Alpine Restyle dash kits. Alpine designs each kit for use with a specific vehicle platform, with color, finish and shape that matches the factory dash. The kits feature hard keys that replace the factory radio knobs.

Alpine added five X009 systems for 2015, bringing the total to eight.


IHeartRadio has several new integrations and partnerships for its streaming music and live radio service; the upshot is that more brands will bring the streaming service to market. Google, Sony, LG, DISH, TiVo, QNX and Clarion are integrating the iHeartRadio app into their products.

Darren Davis, iHeartRadio and iHeartMedia Networks president, said the integrations set a tone for 2015, as iHeartRadio focuses on a consumer-first approach “from launching its app on meaningful devices to continuing to leverage its live radio and entertainment events to provide the best music experience for its listeners.”

IHeartRadio will be one of the first apps available on the new Google Cast for Audio, which embeds the technology behind Chromecast into speakers, sound bars and A/V receivers. Beginning in February, the iHeartRadio app will be available on several Sony products like its PlayStation line.

Also for the first time, iHeartRadio will be available on LG connected devices, including the 2015 LG Music Flow Wi-Fi Series home audio lineup unveiled at CES 2015, as well as current and next-generation LG Smart TVs.

BlackBerry subsidiary QNX Software Systems unveiled a concept car that includes “iHeartRadio Drive Anywhere Radio.” The prospective feature will allow drivers to continue listening to an AM/FM radio station even after driving out of signal range by switching automatically to the streamed iHeartRadio station.

Clarion’s new flagship model for 2015, the NX605, an in-dash navigation multimedia system with cloud-connectivity capabilities, will include iHeartRadio. In addition, iHeartMedia’s Total Traffic Network information will be integrated into the system’s navigation, allowing for real-time incident and traffic flow reporting.

Fiat-Chrysler highlighted its relationship with iHeartRadio in this CES charging station; the automaker has updated its “Uconnect Access” suite of connected in-vehicle services. Via mobile, owners can access iHeartRadio, Pandora, Slacker and Aha.

Chrysler has updated its “Uconnect Access” suite of connected in-vehicle services.

Four new services are vehicle finder, send destination to vehicle, a monthly vehicle health report and vehicle health alert. These services are designed to help a consumer monitor and maintain a vehicle’s key systems, navigate to desired destinations and keep track of a vehicle’s location.

“We understand that our customers lead busy lifestyles, and our goal is to minimize the everyday stresses by providing drivers with a variety of ways to stay conveniently connected to their vehicle,” Chrysler Head of Global Uconnect System and Services Al Amici said in an announcement.

Uconnect is introducing a refreshed Uconnect Access smartphone application, which the automaker says enable vehicle owners to navigate through the app in a faster and more intuitive way.

Via mobile, owners can access Pandora, iHeartRadio, Slacker and Aha.

The Uconnect 8.4A and 8.4AN provide vehicle owners with an included 6- or 12-month trial of Uconnect Access services that use a built-in data connection. Daily, weekly or monthly Wi-Fi subscriptions are sold separately.


Imagination Technologies, parent of UK-based Internet radio maker Pure, said that its Caskeid wireless audio IP platform is set to be the first multiroom streaming solution to support Master Quality Authenticated, a British technology developed by Bob Stuart, founder of Meridian Audio.

Adding MQA support to Imagination’s Caskeid wireless audio platform will enable companies that license Casekeid technologies to develop wireless multiroom and multichannel speakers for an in-home high-resolution audio experience, it said. The Caskeid platform can deliver MQA’s intended studio quality audio in a wireless multiroom or multichannel environment.

Caskeid licensees and partners include Frontier Silicon, Media-Saturn Group, Onkyo, Pure and Meridian Audio, with more pending, according to the company.

MQA begins with the sound that’s been signed off by the artist and producer. MQA also uses coding to build a file or stream which also delivers sophisticated metadata and can be delivered inside any lossless container, e.g. as ALAC, FLAC or WAV.

Using this Mustang, Ford highlighted the updated Sync 3, which begins arriving on new vehicles this year.
Photo by Leslie Stimson FORD UPDATES SYNC

Ford highlighted the Sync 3 communications and entertainment system. The automaker said this new version is faster, more intuitive and easier to use, with enhanced response to driver commands.

Ford says Sync has been updated with more conversational speech recognition technology, a more smartphone-like touch screen and clearer graphics.

For example, instead of saying “Panera Bread Restaurant” to find the nearest location of that chain, drivers can now use the more common “Panera” reference for navigation.

The system builds on Sync, which Ford says is in some 10 million vehicles globally. Sync 3 begins arriving on new vehicles this year.

The Radio Disney smartphone app will soon be available to Ford Sync AppLink users. “While there are many music-streaming apps currently compatible with AppLink, Radio Disney is the first family-oriented music app,” said Ford Connected Services Product Manager Julius Marchwicki.

The change comes as Walt Disney Co. is in the process of selling off its network of two dozen radio stations, with the exception of flagship program originator KDIS(AM) in Los Angeles.


General Motors debuted connected car features to make it easier to shop in the car. The automaker’s subscription-based OnStar program will launch AtYourService in the United States and Canada in coming weeks.

The e-commerce play spotlights partnerships with companies such as Dunkin’ Donuts, Parkopedia, and Priceline, and will offer drivers coupons through RetailMeNot and Entertainment Book.

“We will continue to innovate in ways that make our customers’ time on the road more efficient and more convenient,” said Mark Lloyd, consumer online officer for OnStar.

OnStar annually receives 35 million requests for directions in North America, according to the company, a subsidiary of GM.

E-Radio President Jackson Wang, left, and VP/Strategic Planning Mike Starling hold their CES Innovations Award in the Tech for a Better World category. The company’s technology uses RDS to communicate with “smart” appliances. E-RADIO USES RDS TO

The folks at e-Radio Inc. and project partner water heater manufacturer A.O. Smith Corp. displayed their smart technology. The e-Radio P2D 2045 module was named a CES Innovations Awards Honoree in the “Tech for a Better World” category.

The module uses FM RDS to send real-time electricity pricing directly to “smart” appliances, enabling them to use energy during non-peak times. For instance, a consumer might choose to wash a load of clothes at a time when hot water is less expensive, EVP Duff Roman and VP/Strategic Planning Mike Starling told Radio World.

The company is partnering with A.O. Smith because hot water heaters consume some 40 percent of the electricity in the average home, according to company officials.

The company demoed the project using the signal of KNPR(FM) in Las Vegas. Three dozen FMs have been participating in pilot tests in select markets or have been pre-qualified for service initiation, according to Starling and Roman. The tech has the possibility of bringing ROI to stations, as well as saving consumers and power companies’ money, company officials believe.

For utilities, the ubiquitous FM RDS communication network ensures high levels of reliability with visual confirmation of locked signal quality, authenticated messages and optimal confirmation of load shed during times of peak demand, according to e-Radio.


Rivet News Radio, which calls itself a smart audio network for news, demonstrated an embedded integration of the Rivet Auto API with OpenCar Inc. and Visteon. Rivet’s dual approach, with both embedded and smartphone solutions, provides multiple ways for connected car drivers to access its content, according to CEO John MacLeod.

The Rivet Auto API enables customization of content selection to meet OEMs’ application needs, and supports content filtering based on location and user interests. It also allows OEMs to offer on-­demand weather updates, based on location.

Bosch Automotive Technology is working with Rivet’s smartphone integration inside Jaguar and Land Rover vehicles. Earlier this year, Rivet announced its first smartphone integration, with Bosch Automotive Technologies and Abalta’s Weblink.

Rivet also has a new programming partner, American Public Media. The public radio producer will share three program downloads to Rivet’s customized playlists: “Marketplace,” “The Splendid Table” and “The Dinner Party Download.”