THE era of stuffing your glove compartment with CDs, let alone cassette tapes, is finally over. These days, the truly wired car is plugged into to your phone and your music collection back at home.
The current crop of car stereos is as notable for what’s missing as what’s included. Pioneer’s £200 “affordable” model, the snappily-named MVH-AV270BT, is typical in having neither CD player nor digital radio, but instead a large touch screen to control your iPhone.
The six-inch display in fact is bigger than most phones, and works as a sort of giant remote control, streaming music wirelessly via Bluetooth and letting you adjust the sound on an inbuilt graphic equalizer.
It’s compatible with most Android phones, iPods, memory sticks and the like. The fact that it also sports an analogue radio is almost as an afterthought.
But the MVH-AV270BT really only scratches the surface. Further up the range, new and emerging models will offer connectivity with Apple and Google’s vision of the road ahead, respectively CarPlay and Android Auto. These platforms combine communication, traffic information and music into a single unit.
The idea is that you install an app on your phone (only recent models will be supported) and connect it to a compatible car stereo using a standard USB charging cable. The phone then pushes information to the large LCD display on the dashboard.
CarPlay and Android Auto will connect to online radio services like TuneIn, and to music libraries such as Spotify, from where you can stream almost any song you can think of – whether stored on one of your other devices or in a cloud. Depending which model you choose, you can also call up a conventional, inbuilt sat nav or Google Maps. Diehards will still be able to hear the cricket on long wave.
The systems aren’t without their drawbacks, though. First of all, there will be a VHS vs Betamax-style skirmish as some car makers try to push their own systems. And because all the new services depend upon being within reach of a mobile signal, you will encounter occasional dropouts, especially if you drive long distances.
The good news, however, is that Pioneer and the other audio makers will support both Apple and Google platforms on their upcoming models, which at least means you won’t have to take your car to bits if you change phones.