As we reported back in January, all the big radio hoopla at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show as about the incursion of internet audio services like Pandora into car stereo systems. Things have been quiet on that front until I noticed an article in the New York times last week that asks “Will the Internet Kill Traditional Car Radio?.” It looks like writer John R. Quain is one of the first press reviewers to have his hands on one of the new Pandora-equipped car receivers, the Pioneer AVIC-X920BT.
Quain reports that the sound was not quite CD quality, but better than some satellite stations. Tethered to his iPhone he noted that
AT&T’s 3G wireless service is notoriously patchy in New York City, so there were occasional dead spots when the music dropped out as the cellphone searched for a signal. Furthermore, the software will not let you create or add new Pandora stations, a nod to concerns about distracted driving.
His is the only review–such as it is–that I could find, though it does look like the Pioneer is shipping.
For everyone else who doesn’t yet have Pioneer’s top-of-the-line car receiver, listening to internet radio in the car still means connecting it via a cable or bluetooth and messing with your smartphone’s controls. And, certainly, 3G data coverage is going to be one of the most limiting factors, especially outside major cities or off major interstate highways.
Until a critical mass of car receivers will interface smoothly with smartphones and wireless broadband is more consistently available, traditional broadcast and satellite radio are going to be the choice for most folks who want to listen to something besides their own CDs and MP3s.
While there are quite a few streaming radio apps for all the major smartphone operating systems, I’m quite doubtful that too many listeners will be clamoring to listen to a local or distant cookie-cutter active rock or adult contemporary commercial station over their smartphone instead of just scanning the radio dial. I’m guessing that services like Pandora, specialty internet-only stations and unique non-commercial broadcast stations like KEXP or WFMU will end up being the winners when mobile internet radio becomes truly practical.
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