Car Stereo the Mobile Way: Tunes and the Modern Car

Streaming music into your car from your Smartphone is great, but doing it without touching your phone is even better. Car companies are creating a better car stereo experience, installing popular music services onto our navigation screens.

By Joni Gray

Tune In And Turn On

Did you know that 80% of all music listening happens in the car? Although this seems like a statistic from the 1970’s, it’s still true today. As a result, there’s a race among carmakers to connect popular Smartphone music apps seamlessly into the navigation screens of cars so all that futzing around with your phone links can be completely avoided. Ask Ford. It bet the farm by marketing its in-dash technology with the aim of changing perception of American car companies for the better.

Others have now joined the game and the beautiful part of this competition is that those of us who aren’t wired like a teenager (or armed with a kid’s computer know-how) can enjoy and discover new music easily in our cars like regular people.

Today there’s an entirely new aspect of car stereo listening where our opinion and taste matters – even our friends’ tastes. The only thing standing between us pure radio bliss is education. Not every app will suit your listening habits and cars that integrate those apps are not yet available across the board. But to whet your appetite, these apps and the dashboards that support them should give you thoroughly modern music experience in the comfort of your car.

Reading Your Mind

Have you noticed that regular radio rarely plays the music you want to hear? Yet, without the radio, we’re left to discover music on our own and that can be daunting. A music discovery service called Pandora Internet Radio, has changed all that forever, and car companies are jumping on board with in-car integration to serve up the site. Toyota, Lexus, BMW, Ford, MINI, Scion, Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac and GMC all have simple, distraction limiting screens created for Pandora where you can create your own customized radio stations and give immediate feedback – thumbs up or thumbs down – while songs are playing. Pandora remembers what you like and dislike for future reference and won’t repeat a song.

Just tell Pandora the name of the song and artist you like and a personalized “station” is created based upon music of that genre. If you’re an iTunes user, you can also share your list with Pandora to give the machine even more information about your musical tastes. You can also pick from Pandora’s Genre Stations — Today’s Hits, 80s Pop, Club/Dance – whatever floats your boat. If a song you don’t like plays, Pandora allows you to skip up to six songs per hour per station.

Song choices are based on Pandora’s database of thousands of music characteristics called the Music Genome Project – a sort of artificial intelligence that stops just short of reading your mind. Of course, your music choices can be shared on all the social networking sites if you are one to broadcast your musical tastes. For me, I like to keep my guilty pleasures (aka Justin Beiber) on the down low.

I Demand To Hear That Song!

Similar to Pandora, but more about music on demand, is MOG. MOG allows you to find specific songs and stream them whenever you want. There are “top 50” lists for just about any genre and 14 million songs to choose from. BMW and MINI have partnered with MOG, creating an easy to search experience right on the navigation screen that makes searching for songs as easy as plugging in an address.

The BMW/MINI system also allows you to play, replay and skip songs freely and boasts the highest quality audio in the business at 320 kbps. But all these bells and whistles come at a price. Although you can get Pandora for free (with commercials) or discounted yearly subscription of only $36.50, MOG will cost you $9.99 per month – or $119.00 per year.

The system has been available on the BMW 6-Series for a while and will now roll out in all the future products. It is available in the new BMW 3-Series now. It’s a premium music service matched up to a premium car brand, which is a brilliant idea.

Like Radio On Steroids

HD Radio is another popular automotive choice, built right into the dash of many new cars. If you’re wondering what it’s all about, it turns out that every radio broadcast area has stations that can deliver its signal digitally instead of just radio waves. This makes the listening experience much improved, taking out all of that ambient car stereo noise. Beyond that, many radio stations provide additional HD2 and HD3 channels with separate but similar programming. But you need the car set up for HD Radio before you can get to these spots on the dial. It’s one of the least expensive alternatives to regular radio at only $39 for initial set up.

A new player on the online streaming radio scene is iHeartRadio. Ford was first to enable the iHeart Radio app into its SYNC system. The most intriguing thing about this app is its ability to deliver more than 800 of the nation’s most popular live broadcasts, so if you miss that great radio station your heard in Chicago, you don’t have to live there to hear it. Ford makes it easy to use with its voice activation on the SYNC system, totally hands free.

The Learning Curve

Sure, all this new technology can seem confounding. You might say it’s confusing at first, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll love having music you like at your command.

Now there are no limits to our musical selections, and we don’t have to schlep around bulky CD notebooks, cassettes or MP3 players. Another great plus is that online services allow us to share our music with friends and family while we’re enjoying it via social network sites. And with new artists being introduced to us based on our own personal taste, we are not limited by what the radio stations want to serve up. Music services make it possible for virtual unknowns to go viral overnight. If music is important to you, a Smartphone and a smart car may be in your future.

So what is your favorite online format for music? Are you keeping up with the times or just enjoying your favorites and living comfortably in the past? Please comment here and let us know.

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