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Radio’s Power on the Dashboard

There’s no doubt that technology is bringing new choices to an auto dashboard near you.  Nor is there any doubt that consumers will embrace and even demand those choices.

It’s customary for broadcasters to freak out about this, as we stand by and watch radio’s hegemony over the dashboard under attack.

The natural response is to fight technology with technology – to assume that your FM station must have all the doo-dads and whistles that Pandora has.

What is the truth about radio’s user experience in the car?

The truth is that user experience is not only about new features or technology or interactivity.  These are not the only sources of value for consumers.

User experience is also about the value of habit.  It’s about the value of convenience.  It’s about the value of simplicity and elegance.  And radio has all those value propositions in abundance.

Think about that for a second:  If I am interested in your radio station it actually has a button in my car.  Let me repeat that: Your station has its own button in my car. That’s what I call an ideal user experience.

And by “button” I mean the touch-digital kind, too – not simply the fast-vanishing analog variety (as shown in the picture above).

What could be easier than that?  What could be simpler, more elegant, more valuable, more attractive?

Sure radio alternatives are available – and all of them, to one degree or another, require a mix of buttons and voice commands and interactivity and work – and many of them cause a level of distraction which is not insignificant and may yet one day run into regulatory hurdles.  The value in these alternatives is real, but like a buried treasure you have to dig to find it.

Or you could just press a button.

We should not discount the supreme user experience that one button and no interaction represents.  Thumb that up, mister.

This is not to suggest that new alternatives will not erode radio’s auto ownership.  You can bet they will.  But making radio more technologically complicated will, at best, bring radio up to par.  It will not eliminate those other options from the dash.  When automakers give consumers choices they will take them, no matter what radio does.

The key to compete effectively isn’t to imagine that we can fight off these other options.  It’s to provide more options of our own without mucking up the simplicity for which radio is rightly famous.

Isn’t this why radio is now available in a streaming form that can compete head-to-head (ideally) with any tech-savvy alternative out there?  Want customization?  You got it!  Album art and tagging, you got it!  Choice?  You got it!

Indeed, radio has the best of both worlds:  We offer the familiar, friendly, simple option of one-button access to the station you want, and we offer the more elaborate, tech-infused choice of radio plus bells and whistles via streaming.

Audio Nirvana.

So before you make radio more complicated in the dash than it has ever been before, remember why consumers still demand it in the dash in the first place and will continue to do so for a very long time.

Simplicity is powerful.

And content can be as important a driving force as technology.

No pun intended.

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