Not content with being one of the biggest and best music streaming services on the planet, Spotify is also keen to meet your in-car entertainment needs. That’s where his aptly named Car Thing comes in.
MUO recently spoke to Andreas Cedborg, Spotify’s head of hardware products, on the past, present and future of Car Thing. Including how the design process worked, the thinking behind Car Thing and how Spotify hopes it will impact users.
What is Spotify’s car?
For the uninitiated, Spotify’s Car Thing is an in-car accessory that mounts to your dash, allowing you to listen to your favorite music and podcasts through Spotify. Car Thing was designed to be easy to use without having to take your eyes off the road. With a combination of voice, touch and physical commands giving you the choice.
Rumored for years, Car Thing was officially unveiled in April 2021, with a limited version available to guest users in the United States. After positive feedback and high demand, in February 2022 Spotify invited all Premium subscription holders to purchase one. Car Thing, however, is still only available in the United States.
Spotify’s car is currently priced at $89.99 with standard shipping. And that buys you dedicated hardware for accessing Spotify in your car. Complete with the oversized dial which is somewhat reminiscent of the click wheel of old iPods.
We’ve got an in-depth look at Car Thing for those who want to learn more about Spotify’s care material.
An Interview with Spotify’s Head of Hardware
In an attempt to find out more about the development and future direction of Car Thing, we spoke to Andreas Cedborg, Responsible for Spotify’s hardware products.
The Car Thing development process
We started at the beginning, by asking Cedborg about the origin story of Car Thing. Where did the idea come from and how easy was it to take Car Thing from a simple idea to a functional product that people would want to buy? He told us:
The car experience is important to Spotify because so much of listening to music happens in the car. Just as we provide countless ways to listen to Spotify at home and on the go, we want to ensure that we provide our listeners with plenty of ways to listen to Spotify in a car environment.
We’ve spent a lot of time working to better understand drivers’ needs and the contextual differences that occur when looking for in-car audio entertainment. We worked on a number of different solutions and prototypes, thinking about entry points for visual, touch and voice interaction. The end result is the Car Thing device that we recently made available to users in the United States, which makes enjoying Spotify’s vast catalog of audio content seamless.
We then moved on to questions about the design of the product itself, and in particular that oversized dial that can be used to quickly and easily scroll through a lot of content.
It was clear to us from the outset that the in-car audio entertainment landscape is complex and delivering the right features at the right times was critical. When entering a car, the number of opportunities for a driver to carefully engage with the interface is limited to a few occasions, so we needed a touch interface that offered easy navigation, where all the different parts join. The dial needed to become an effective control mechanism: providing easy rotation to scroll through a large amount of content quickly and easily.
How Car Thing is for older car owners
That explains the how, but what about the why? In-car entertainment systems are changing rapidly to reflect the way we all consume content these days, so we wanted to know if Spotify felt compelled to create Car Thing to keep up with the trend.
If you look at it from a broader automotive industry perspective, car entertainment systems are changing rapidly for a limited number of cars – new car models. But that’s only a small part of the market. The average age of a car in the United States is over 12 years old and the average age of people buying new cars is over 50 years old. The product we have created is very relevant for a large number of people who are looking for ways to improve their current in-car audio experience with new tools.
We also wanted to know if Spotify plans to continue to evolve the product over time, to which Cedborg told us:
Car Thing was created as a broad alternative for the majority of current cars on the road. We are continually evolving Car Thing and performing regular software updates to ensure that we provide the best possible listening experience to users.
Hey Spotify, make voice commands work in cars
One of the best things about Car Thing is the “Hey Spotify” voice commands that let you control Car Thing with your voice. But cars can be a particularly noisy environment and aren’t necessarily the best place to issue voice commands. However, Cedborg explained that all of this was taken into account during the development process, saying:
We were very aware of the harsh environment in the car. Unlike other listening environments, listening in the car forces you to take other things into account, such as engine hum, road sounds, air conditioning, and outside weather noise sources. We have spent a lot of time developing new solutions that can meet these challenges. Because Thing is equipped with four microphones, and we have integrated many algorithms to sort out the noise, understand what is being said and where it is coming from.
Therefore, Car Thing is able to hear directions even if the background noise is louder than the voice speaking to the device. We think this feature is crucial to ensuring that Car Thing truly creates a great in-car listening experience.
While Spotify may have started out as a pure music streaming service, it’s evolved in recent years and now offers music, podcasts and news stories. Although this was not well received by all users, Cedborg made it clear that it was all tied into the company’s overall vision from the start, exclaiming:
For Spotify, audio is our past, our present and our future. Our mission when we started in 2008 remains the same today: to connect creators with fans and enable creators to make a living from their art.
What does the future hold for Car Thing?
Because Thing attracted a lot of interest from the start, millions of people joined the waiting list to buy one. But did Spotify expect this level of interest? And does he expect the same level of interest to continue in the future?
While it’s always difficult to predict excitement levels when launching something new, there’s no doubt that we’ve been thrilled with the response we’ve received from users. We continue to receive positive feedback and are excited about the future potential of this device.
Finally, we wanted to know Spotify’s plans for the future of Car Thing. Right now, it’s exclusively available in the US, which means millions of Spotify users around the world are being denied the chance to purchase one. So we wanted to know if there are any plans to launch Car Thing outside of the United States. To which Cedborg replied:
Listening to audio in the car is a big use case for our listeners in the US, but it’s still early days of Car Thing for us!
Which unfortunately leaves us Spotify users outside of the US waiting and hoping for an opportunity to grab a car.
In-car entertainment is evolving, and so is Spotify
In-car entertainment, and the hardware and software that powers it, is evolving at a rapid pace. However, as Spotify’s Andreas Cedborg said in our exclusive interview, car entertainment systems evolve as new cars come out, leaving everyone stuck with what they already have.
With Car Thing, Spotify has created a potential solution to this, allowing anyone with a Premium subscription to take Spotify with them on the drive.
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