Dashboard Decision: The Evolution of In-Car Entertainment

We have become so tethered to our devices. They run our lives whether we like to admit it or not. The primary functions of our phones are no longer voice calls, but rather the myriad apps that control the lights in our houses, allow us to deposit cheques, and play music or podcasts to name a few. The latest mobile phones are basically portable personal assistants. When we’re on the go, especially in the car, they can help us get from point A to B without getting lost and provide us with our favourite tunes or podcasts on the way. The ability to seamlessly connect your phone to your car is becoming increasingly mainstream and user-friendly. Today, you can pretty much create an office on the go.

Then and Now

Years ago, in-car entertainment was just audio: radio, cassettes, CDs, MP3s and eventually Bluetooth. You can’t argue the fact that in-car entertainment has come a LONG way from it’s humble beginnings and even if your current system doesn’t meet your needs, there are always workarounds. As I kid I remember a family road trip in our 1984 Chevrolet Malibu. The car didn’t have a cassette player. With only radio it was either static or silence in areas with no reception; neither of which are viable options for long drives. My Mother solved this issue by bringing along a battery-powered cassette player. You know, one of those fancy double deck ones that would automatically play the other side and then switch to the second cassette! A few years later, my Dad bought a brand-new 1987 Chevy pickup (the man still loves his GM vehicles to this day); again, with only a radio. Probably due to my Mom’s persuading (my Dad would be happy just listening to the engine), they installed an aftermarket car stereo with a cassette deck into that pickup. Many years and vehicles later, my parents both drive cars equipped with AppleCar Play and satellite radio and I think my Mom’s Tahoe still has a CD player hiding in the glove box. For a complete history on the evolution of in-car entertainment, click here.

The Next Generation

The audio systems of years past have now been replaced by either Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. A third alternative exists in the form of a proprietary system developed by the manufacturer, but the connectivity is temperamental. Just ask Alan Cross how user-friendly his car’s proprietary system is. But, how important is your in-car entertainment system? If you don’t currently have one or are in the market for a new car, will the presence and/or type of system affect your buying decision? The results of our Twitter poll are in and the answer is “yes” with just shy of 60% of total responses. The remaining 40% was split more or less equally between “no” and “don’t care”.

Apple vs. Android: The debate continues

An in-car entertainment system that works well with your personal device does more than just play your favourite music or podcast. I can’t personally speak to Android Auto as I’m on team Apple CarPlay. I can seamlessly switch between regular radio, navigation, play podcasts, voice text using Siri, have incoming texts read to me and answer phone calls. For people who work on the go, an in-car entertainment system is more than just entertainment. It turns your car into a mobile office. No matter what season it is, highway mishaps occur and can leave you stuck in your car for hours. For regular road-trippers, a great in-car entertainment system can literally save your sanity. Most people are already either Apple or Android, so you can probably research car manufacturers accordingly if you are invested in a specific platform. In any case, it’s much easier to change out your phone than your car.

Did CarPlay Kill The Satellite Radio Star?

Initially, it was Sirius vs. XM, but now they are one in the same. Most car manufacturers have SiriusXM radio factory installed and a trial subscription is included with your purchase. However, with the ability to connect your smart phone to the in-car entertainment system, which allows you to play music from your favourite streaming service (often available for free), or listen to your favourite podcast, why would you pay for an additional service? I never bothered to set up the satellite radio on my 2018 Volkswagen Atlas. When they called to ask if I was enjoying the free trial I explained that I hadn’t even set it up because with Apple CarPlay, I have all the in-car entertainment I need at no extra cost.

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  • Mentioned this on twitter too, but just a comment on what Alan said about having to choose between Carplay and Android Auto. While there still may be licensing issues with some car manufacturers, I found when I was shopping last year that a lot of the vehicles if they were offering one they were offering the other. My new Mazda allows me to use my Android while my wife can connect her iPhone for Carplay.