Radio is dead. Long live Radio.

New York Times today: Will the Internet Kill Traditional Car Radio?

Ultimately, the incursion of Internet-based music services and radio station streams may be less about annihilating yet another business model than it is about breaking down barriers. For the first time, small local stations will be able to reach an entire driving nation, so some broadcasters may see their audiences swell as more listeners find them on Internet-connected car radios. In the end, it may simply be a case of radio is dead, long live radio.

Radio is the last bastion of the centralized publishing model, and wireless internet enabled automobile devices stand to challenge this final establishment. People increasingly don’t want to be fed centralized content any more, nor do they appreciate being bound to the radio-listening constraints of local proximity to radio stations. They want to have personalized access to content that predicts their tastes, or else they want to specifically select what they want to hear. They want their content to come from anywhere, and to be available anywhere. This is how things work on our computers, our smartphones, and so on – why should our car radio experiences be any different?

It also occurs to me every time I plug in my iPhone to my car’s audio system that developing a separate car interface for audio consumption, or really any other function, is largely a waste of time and money. Why bother with it? Instead, ship an iPod Touch or some Android-based device embedded in the dash. Let users access their existing streaming content, be it iTunes, Pandora, Last.fm, NPR apps, and so on.

This goes for other car functions as well. The other day I was getting a ride back to the car dealer in their shuttle, and their 2007 R-class Mercedes had a GPS system that was woefully out of date and buggy. I asked the driver why they hadn’t updated the software or the maps, and he said they just weren’t going to do it for whatever reason. This struck me as completely backwards from the current trends of technology – why not embed a GPS system that updates itself continually over 3G? Small changes could incrementally add themselves to the map database, and software updates pushed through an app store or web interface. Why suffer with a broken map application for a car that is only three years old?

Perhaps all the car functions could be opened up. Provide an API for developers and the smartphone app market do the rest.

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