I have written extensively about the challenges radio will have in cars with a dashboard which is built to sync with Apple Carplay and Android Auto. I have also written a lot about what happens to radio when cars drive themselves (hint: It gets ugly).
But there’s another force out there and it’s a force in the other direction.
And that force is your own voice.
[Starting] this summer, drivers will be able to talk to Alexa in their Ford vehicle to ask questions, look for destinations, shop online and use smart home features. The collaboration uses Ford’s AppLink, which lets you connect to your favorite apps in the car, and a special version of the Alexa digital assistant developed by Amazon. Ford’s Sync feature, now in its latest generation Sync 3, has allowed voice use of apps in vehicles for about a decade. Voice is ‘a natural interface,’ he said. ‘As what we are doing inside the vehicle becomes more and more sophisticated, we don’t want our customers to have to learn all the various menu structures and dive into the owner’s manual. Ideally they should just be able just say what they want. That voice enablement is something we share in common with Amazon. It makes for a ready partnership.’
So while voice commands per se are not new to Ford Sync, an Alexa integration will make the system more powerful and easier to use.
While many have expressed concern about radio’s shelf space in new cars (in some cases, the radio setting can be difficult to find), voice controls overcome all these limitations. There is no “shelf” when all controls are voice so there is no problem with “shelf space.”
Whatever you can imagine and whatever you can verbalize, your car can bring to you thanks to Sync 3 and Alexa. As tools like Alexa become more ubiquitous and more familiar and habitual, we will invariably want to use them for more humdrum tasks or tasks that take our attention from the road we’re supposed to be watching.
So for radio, that means that being easy to find is less important than being worth finding. It means that being easy to listen to will be less important than being worth listening to.
When it comes to radio in the car, it’s possible that our voices will save us.
At least until the car does the driving for us.