Spotify confirms it will begin testing a voice-controlled podcast and music device in the coming weeks geared toward in-vehicle entertainment systems. And while they’ve been spending lots of time working on the technology, the branding of the feature is a lot less complicated. They’ve dubbed it Car Thing. The device uses Bluetooth to connect a Spotify user to their dashboard utilizing a “Hey Spotify” voice command to pick a podcast or music programming. Car Thing also includes presets allowing users to quickly tune to their favorite playlists.
“The test will be done in the U.S. only, with a small group of invited Spotify Premium users,” the company said in an announcement. “We don’t have any current plans to make this specific device available to consumers, but the learnings from our test will dictate how we develop experiences everywhere you listen,” it adds.
Content companies have to date been happy to leave the development of voice assistants to tech companies like Google, Apple and Amazon while enjoying the benefits of being integrated. And Spotify says it doesn’t intend to change that relationship. “While we know there has been some speculation about our future plans, Car Thing was developed to help us learn more about how people listen to music and podcasts. Our focus remains on becoming the world’s number one audio platform—not on creating hardware,” it says. The company is also revealing what it has on the drawing board, disclosing that it will probably test other technology under the Home Thing and Voice Thing names.
While Spotify wants the marketplace, and more critically shareholders, to know they don’t have plans to pivot from being a content company to a hardware developer, The Verge reports Spotify has copyrighted the Car Thing name, suggesting it is leaving the door open to future uses of the technology. It similarly has copyrighted Home Thing and Voice Thing. When details of the dashboard-targeted device first leaked in January, the Financial Times reported Spotify was considering marketing it to users for about $100, fueling speculation that the company was getting into the hardware business.
More In-Car Digital Listening
Surveying those 90% of Americans 18+ who say they have driven or ridden in a car in the past month, a whopping 81% of respondents said they currently listen to traditional radio. In the past three years that figure has remained steady. But The Edison Media/Triton Digital 2019 Infinite Dial study found 26% of U.S. adults say they listened to a podcast while in the car. That’s a one point increase from a year ago and a 7% increase versus the 2017 study. “That’s a fairly significant increase over the past two years and it might be a harbinger of things to come,” said Tom Webster, a senior VP at Edison Research during a recent webinar. The Infinite Dial study also found that 28% of adults had used an online radio service while in the car. That was steady from a year earlier but up two points from 2017.
With more digital listening being done in-car, tech companies and content providers are stepping up their game. The latest example came this month when Google announced the first cars with dashboard entertainment systems powered by its Android Automotive OS will soon hit the road. One of the first to be added is iHeartRadio, which will be available in all the cars as they roll out in 2020. Google said this month that as it comes to market the goal is to bring a “safe and seamless” connected experience to dashboards, which will enable users to bring apps they use in smartphones to cars.
“As the first cars hit the road, we have heard from developers, users and OEMs that consuming media like music or podcasts is one of the key use cases while driving,” said Madan Ankapura, Product Manager of Android and Oscar Wahltinez, a Developer Programs Engineer at Google, as they opened the door to media app developers.
Conal Byrne, president of the iHeartPodcast Network, told Podcast News Daily earlier this year that he believe in-vehicle listening will be one of the big growth areas for the medium during the next few years. “With cars getting more connected, all the carmakers are focused on how to turn their dashboard into an entertainment system. As that happens, podcasts will get paths right into the vehicle and become even easier to listen to,” Byrne said. “Any friction or disruption will just go away.”