Ever since radio lost its prominence to television as America’s number one form of entertainment, it has been in the background of American life. The primary place where many people listen to radio has been in their cars on the open road. The audience for traditional AM/FM forms of radio is shrinking, but the market for personalized Internet radio services such as Pandora radio continues to grow. Drivers have sought to bring Internet radio with them on the road since mobile smartphones such as the iPhone, Blackberry or Android phones started offering mobile Internet radio applications.
The problem is how to do this. Launching the radio apps on phones and then connecting them to a car stereo’s auxiliary port has so far been the only way to take Internet radio to its fullest potential. But this creates further distractions for the driver and can contribute to driver error and traffic accidents. This week the Ford Motor Company announced their solution to this dilemma.
A new upgrade to its SYNC systems named AppLink will natively and wirelessly use radio applications such as Pandora or Stitcher radio from smartphones, allowing the driver to use these applications hands free. After Ford rolls out the new software update later this year, all SYNC enabled vehicles will be able to use AppLink. The system works by syncing smartphones to Ford’s SYNC systems and then the user navigates Pandora or Stitcher using voice commands.
Imagine driving down California’s beautiful coastal highway one and saying to your car “change station to the Beach Boys.” On the stressful commute home from work, command your car to play relaxing reggae, classical music or any other commercial free genre or artist station Pandora has to offer. Compared to the now ancient auxiliary port, this is a huge step forward in bringing Internet radio on the road. The Stitcher radio app is an Internet radio service that allows users to listen to talk and news radio from a plethora of sources such as N.P.R. Fox News, Wall Street Journal, and many other radio and podcast stations. As an N.P.R. addict, I would love the ability to listen to my favorite shows whenever I want simply by telling my car “Play all things considered.”
These are just the first two radio applications that Ford is releasing though AppLink. There is also another application available at launch called OpenBeak that will read Twitter updates out loud. But who really cares about Twitter while driving (sorry Twitter addicts). The software update is expected to rollout mid summer, first on Ford’s new Economy car the Fiesta and later as an upgrade for all other SYNC equipped vehicles. At launch AppLink will only work with Google Android and Blackberry smartphones, but Ford promises iPhone support later this year.
As more and more car companies are able to safely bring Internet radio into the automobile market, could this be another nail for AM/FM’s coffin? Only time will tell.
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