Here Comes the New Dashboard

So what’s in store for the auto dashboard of tomorrow?

It may not be whatever’s on the drawing board in Detroit (or in the picture above).

It may really be whatever’s in your pocket.

So says venture capitalist John Backus:

In-car electronics, standalone GPS, satellite radio, seatback DVD players and HD radio will quickly disappear, replaced only by the smartphone powering a dumb screen on the dashboard.

In other words, argues Backus, YOU are the new dashboard.

And when he says all these technologies will “quickly disappear,” he’s talking about them as unique and distinct technologies.  He’s not talking about their content or their value propositions.

For example, all of these elements are potential “apps” that can be powered from your pocket.  Satellite radio will not necessarily disappear, but we will not need the satellite to hear it.  We will watch seatback videos, but from our mobile devices.  And HD radio…well, let’s just say the Internet provides a multitude of audio content possibilities.

May the best content win.  May MY content win.

Backus is not alone in this prognostication.  I hear much the same thing from Slacker and DAR.fm’s Michael Robertson, with whom I had a very surprising chat that I’ll share with you in a few days.

The one thing this perspective misses is that automakers are using in-dash technology to sell cars, and providing a “dumb screen” may give the consumer what she wants, but it will not differentiate one car from the next or contribute to incremental sales in a world where everyone’s in-dash screen is “dumb.”

Thus I expect some hybrid future where a “somewhat dumb screen” will have enough embedded intelligence to set apart one make or model from another. Especially as the dash (something which has largely been a commodity over the years) becomes a prime selling point for new cars.

That’s despite what will be a rising chorus of complaints from consumers that “my car ships with crapware” (a great rant from Scott Hanselman):

The Toyota Prius V that we just bought comes with a system called Entune. This is a little computer in the dash itself that includes Applications (yes, applications) like Bing Search, Pandora, Traffic and others. I’ve got a dual-core internet connected super-computer in my pocket and you can get one yourself for $99 at AT&T but my new car includes an underpowered, low-resolution, low-memory tiny computer of its own. It would have made far too much sense for them to spend the money on an awesome 6″ or 7″ screen that mirrored the phone.

It is an absolutely inexorable trend, this steady drift towards customization and consumer control.

And the best way for broadcasters to be on the right side of this trend is to embed aspects of customization and consumer control across our product platforms. After all, what is a simple in-car “button punch” but a display of customization and consumer control?  Fight this trend at your peril.

Note that nowhere here have I commented on the long-term fate of the good old-fashioned “radio dial” – the ability to receive all your local radio stations on that quasi-dumb screen.

That’s because I don’t see the local radio options going anywhere anytime soon.  The lure of familiarity and habit will be too great – for those generations who have the familiarity and habit, that is.

Will in-car audiences drift to all the attractive baubles that their mobile devices can power on those “dumb screens”?  You bet they will. But this will be a loss of radio listening time, not a rejection of radio altogether.

How will radio make up that loss?

Not with its same few brands repurposed on apps on a virtual store shelf thousands of entertainment options larger, that’s for sure.

You can’t make up that loss of listening.  You can only make up any losses of revenue by deepening your relationships with consumers and advertisers in the markets your brands uniquely serve.  Make up that revenue and grow it. More value, more choice, more customization, more control, more ways for consumers to get more “into” your brands and more brands for them to get “into.”

One radio station begat a “cluster” of stations.  Now you will have a “cluster” of assets which together constitute your brand portfolio.

You’re not in the radio business.  You’re in the relationship business.

Get used to it.

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  • Jim Houssen

    This article is so in tune to the just slightly touching the very near future.  Thanks Mark. 

     I believe that local is necessary as you do.  Connect to the listener. One of the beaties of the advances in radio is that local can be wherever you are.  You can bring that local with you “as long as the station thinks and reacts local.  Here’s a thought to ponder. What about a sim in your car that shares with your phone and provides pre-sets to Internet Radio on the dashboard.  You can add your favorite local station in HD and take them anywhere you wish. And at no extra charge!  As I have used my G3 network with provider Telus to bluetooth my radio habits “and they are huge” to my car stereo.  Usage never have went over 2GHZ of use.  I have a 6GHZ plan and I see the future offering shared sims with spouses and gadgets like the probable in dash combo.  Goodbye CDs just as it was goodbye cassettes..and before that.. 8 tracks.  And hello cloud computing providing our entertainment without needing an on board hard drive saving device.  Happening now with Apple and the icloud.  I have my complete radio station library on the cloud.  Over 20,000+ songs. “And at no charge”! 

    All theses available on demand using my iphone bluetooth to my car.  Small example of the present leading to the future.  Exciting…

  • Thanks Jim!

    CD’s are relics that will one day lose their mobile home, no doubt.

    After all, what is radio but “music from the cloud”?

  • Dusty Rhodes


    Nice job. The beginning of this piece drew me in. The ending emphasizing deeper relationships with consumers/advertisers/donors was encouraging so that hopefully we all move together wherever we may go moving forward.

    Dusty Rhodes
    WAY Media

  • Thanks Dusty!

  • Anonymous

    Terrific read, Mark.

    I’m curious to know which latest and greatest phone Scott has that doesn’t support text messaging and calendar sync?  I have the 4S, and it still supports those features…

    Love the ending regarding deepening relationships with customers.  SO many options and tools we can use to do that these days, yet a good chunk of radio stations is content with covering its ears and screaming “LA LA LA LA WE CAN’T HEAR YOU” when loyalists make a complaint or suggestion. 

  • Was at a discussion last night with Steve Cotter from Slacker, Evan Jones from Sierra Wireless, Steve Pazol from Qualcomm & Cindy Patterson from Jasper Wireless. The OEM auto manufacturers will have a lot more to say about what goes into the cars than we all think. The Auto industry wants to monetize that space. -Blair

  • There were two issues I left out of the post:

    1. Simplicity/Distraction
    2. Monetization

    It does stand to reason that the automakers will seek to monetize that space (because they are instantly media companies too, now). And that will do no favors for their customers, I might add.