Why yes, Spotify did just launch a physical product. And, yes, it is whimsically called “Car Thing.” And it does look sort of like an old iPod Touch, except with a massive dial glued onto (and over) the screen. And it is also free (if you chip in a little for shipping and handling).
But there’s a fatal flaw in this hardware product from a services and software company.
Let’s start here: voice control. Car Thing’s key feature, as an audio product for your car, is that it offers voice control over your music. Move over Hey Siri, Alexa, and Hey Google.
Now there’s Hey Spotify too.
In other words, if your older car doesn’t support apps and have a modern infotainment system, you can still control your music just by talking (and, of course, by turning that massive knob). Or if your car manufacturer doesn’t support Spotify as an in-car audio option and you’re a die-hard Spotify fan, you have a solution.
There are over 70 million driving-related playlists on Spotify, the company says: now more people can access them.
“No matter the year or model of your vehicle, we feel everyone should have a superior listening experience,” Spotify says. “Our focus remains on becoming the world’s number one audio platform—not on creating hardware—but we developed Car Thing because we saw a need from our users, many of whom were missing out on a seamless and personalized in-car listening experience.”
Briefly, Spotify’s Car Thing:
- offers voice control for music
- has the knob for browsing, selecting, playing, pausing
- includes a touchscreen so you can see what’s playing
- has four pre-sets for favorites
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Aside from the simple fact that Spotify is building hardware, however, the most in-your-face physical part of this product is that dial. Or knob. And no, it doesn’t select volume, the way that you might think it would if you’re accustomed to in-car audio experiences. In one sense it’s actually a smart design choice, because the main thing screens are horrible at is non-visual engagement: the ability to use them while not looking at them.
That’s something you absolutely need in a car.
But that’s also the Achilles heel of the product. And a massively flawed design choice at the same time.
Because while you can reach for the knob and grab it without looking — unlike a screen — the knob’s actual functionality includes almost nothing that you don’t still need your eyes for.
“Try the dial for a hands-on way to steer to the audio you love,” Spotify says. “You can also browse deeper, curating the perfect soundtrack to wherever you’re headed. Use the dial to browse, select, play, pause, and discover.”
Browsing requires looking at the screen. Selecting requires looking at the screen. Playing is probably just a tap, as is pausing. But discovering also … requires looking at the screen. And none of that looking at the screen should be happening, ideally, while you’re operating a multi-ton motor vehicle.
Can it be used while stopped? Absolutely.
Will people use it while driving? Absolutely.
It’s almost like Spotify built the voice control aspect of the product, and then lost faith. And the result is a kind of neat product with an odd look, a cool name, and a potentially fatal flaw.
Hopefully, only in a metaphorical sense.
But there’s no guarantee of that.
Car Thing is available in limited release in the United States for free, with a $7 shipping and handling charge. When officially launched, the “anticipated retail price” will be $80.