Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Half-baked tethering from RadioTime and BMW

(image from
OK, so by now you know me. Internet radio in the car is my passion. However, I am also pretty busy and way too practical. I still drive the 2002 PT Cruiser I bought in December 2001 because it runs just fine, thank you very much. (Let's forget about the fact that it needed a new transmission after only 36,000 miles ... ) The result of this practicality is that when I get in the car, I generally just sit down and go. Even though it would only add less than a minute to my departure, most times I don't take the time to get out my iPhone and connect it to the iPod adapter. It is far easier for me to just hit the power button on the radio and listen to our local NPR affiliate, KPCC, so that's what usually happens.

If I, someone who is really motivated to get Internet radio in the car, don't take the time, should we expect others to do the same? Well, when I check around I find that I am not alone in this behavior. People want convenience and will generally take the easy path.

So, now we get to the RadioTime announcement. What bills itself to be an innovation and a "first" is just another half baked attempt to put Internet radio into the car. Similar to the Pioneer AVIC announcement with Pandora earlier this year, users can connect their iPhone to the car and use the Mini's dashboard controls to tune Internet radio. While both solutions do have the benefit of using the in-dash controls to access Internet radio, helping usability, they still fail because they require the user to connect their iPhone. Just like impressions on the second page of Google search results or clicks below the fold, the drop off rate on usage due to this requirement will be huge. People will do it the first couple weeks, but then they will forget one time, then another time, and soon the feature will go unused. Then the iPhone connector in the car will get old and will not be compatible with their new iPhone for next year. The net result will be that they wasted their money buying a feature that they only enjoyed for a couple weeks.

As such, until Internet radio is truly integrated into the dash, it will not take the place of FM radio or even satellite radio in the car. Integration doesn't mean just controls. It means controls and connectivity. It has to be truly built in and "just work."

Until you can sit down, power on, drive off, and enjoy your favorite Internet radio, it isn't viable competition for the user's time in the car.