Not content with being one of the biggest and best music streaming services on the planet, Spotify is keen to provide you with your in-car entertainment needs as well. Which is where its aptly named Car Thing comes in.
MUO recently spoke to Andreas Cedborg, Spotify’s Head of Hardware Product, about 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 Thing?
For the uninitiated, Spotify’s Car Thing is an in-vehicle accessory that mounts to your dashboard, letting you play your favorite music and podcasts through Spotify. Car Thing has been designed to be easy to use without the need to take your eyes off the road. With a combination of voice, touch, and physical controls giving you the choice.
Having been rumored for years, Car Thing was officially unveiled in April 2021, with a limited release available to invited users in the US. After positive feedback and high demand, in February 2022, Spotify invited everyone with a Premium subscription to buy one. Car Thing is, however, still only available in the US.
Spotify’s Car Thing is currently priced at $89.99 with standard shipping. And that buys you a piece of hardware dedicated to accessing Spotify in your car. Complete with the oversized dial that somewhat reminds us of the click wheel on old iPods.
We have a detailed look at Car Thing for those who want to learn more about Spotify’s in-care hardware.
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, Spotify’s Head of Hardware Product.
The Car Thing Development Process
We started at the beginning, asking Cedborg about Car Thing’s origin story. Where did the idea come from and how easy was it to take Car Thing from being just an idea to a working product people would want to buy? He told us:
The car experience is an important one for Spotify, since a large portion of music listening happens in the car. Just as we offer countless ways to listen to Spotify at home and on the go, we want to ensure we’re providing our listeners with numerous ways to listen to Spotify in a car setting.
We spent a lot of time working to better understand driver needs and the contextual differences that take place when looking for audio entertainment in the car. We worked through a number of different solutions and prototypes, thinking through visual, touch and voice interaction entry points. The end result is the Car Thing device we’ve recently made available to users in the US which makes it possible to enjoy Spotify’s vast catalog of audio content in a seamless way.
We then moved onto asking about the product design itself, and especially that oversized dial that can be used to quickly and easily scroll through lots of content.
It was obvious to us from the start that the context of in-car audio entertainment is complex, and that providing the right functionalities for the right moments were key. When entering a car, the amount of opportunities for a driver to attentively engage with the interface is limited to a few occasions, so we needed a tactile interface offering easy navigation, where all different parts come together. 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 Caters to Owners of Older Cars
That explains the how, but what about the why? In-car entertainment systems are evolving quickly to reflect the way we all consume content these days, so we wanted to know if Spotify felt pressured to create Car Thing to keep up with the trend.
If you look at it from a wider car industry perspective, automotive entertainment systems are evolving fast for a limited number of cars – new car models. But this only accounts for a small part of the market. The average age of a car in the US is more than 12 years old, and the average age of individuals buying new cars is over 50 years old. The product we created is highly relevant to a large number of people, who are looking for ways to elevate their current in-car audio experience through new tools.
We also wanted to know if Spotify had any plans to keep on evolving 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 continuously evolving Car Thing and conducting regular software updates to ensure we provide the best possible listening experience for 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 this was all considered during the development process, saying:
We have been very conscious about the challenging environment in the car. Unlike other listening environments, listening in the car forces you to take other items into consideration – such as the humming of the engine, sounds from the road, the air conditioner, and exterior weather noise sources. We spent a lot of time developing new solutions that can address these challenges. Because Thing is equipped with four microphones, and we’ve integrated a lot of algorithms to sort through the noise, understand what is being said and the direction it is coming from.
As a result, Car Thing is able to hear directions even if the background noise is louder than the voice speaking to the device. We believe this feature is crucial to ensuring Car Thing really does create a great in-car listening experience.
While Spotify may have started out as a pure music streaming service, it has evolved in recent years, and now provides music, podcasts, and news reports. While this hasn’t gone down well with all users, Cedborg made it clear that it all ties into the company’s overall vision from the start, exclaiming:
For Spotify, audio is our past, present—and future. Our mission when we set out in 2008 remains the same today: to connect creators with fans and empower creators to live off of their art.
What Does the Future Hold for Car Thing?
Because Thing generated a lot of interest right from the start, with millions of people joining the waiting list to purchase one. But did Spotify expect this level of interest? And does it expect the same level of interest to continue into the future?
While it’s always hard to predict excitement levels when launching something new, there’s no doubt we were thrilled by the response we got from users. We continue to get positive feedback and we’re excited about the future potential of this device.
Last but not least, we wanted to know about 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 opportunity to buy one. So, we wanted to know if there are any plans to launch Car Thing outside the States. To which Cedborg replied:
Listening to audio in the car is a big use case for our listeners in the US, but it is still in the early days of Car Thing for us!
Which unfortunately leaves us Spotify users located outside the US waiting and hoping for an opportunity to grab a Car Thing.
In-Car Entertainment Is Evolving, as Is Spotify
In-car entertainment, and the hardware and software powering it, is evolving at pace. However, as Spotify’s Andreas Cedborg said in our exclusive interview, automotive entertainment systems are evolving as new cars are released, leaving everyone else stuck with what they already have.
With Car Thing, Spotify has created a potential solution to that, allowing anyone with a Premium subscription to take Spotify with them on the drive.
6 Android Auto Tips and Tricks: Here’s What You Can Do
About The Author