Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Popular Pandora in your car?

Pioneer makes a wide array of consumer electronics products, but you wouldn’t know it from its CES press conference today. The company focused exclusively on its car stereo and accessories, putting its car division’s director of marketing, Ted Cardenas, on the stand to make some minor announcements including additional social networking support, the launch of a new iPhone dock, and its own app platform.

In the span of a few years, Pandora.com has gone from an unwieldy, unprofitable start-up to one of the most beloved sites of the internet and on mobile devices. CES featured so many devices that can stream music from Pandora, it was like the music service took over the show. The automotive world got a lot of attention for how Pandora plans to integrate the service, scaring the crud out of terrestrial and satellite radio folks, we imagine. Here are a few ways Pandora will be coming to your car:

Mini announced a partnership that will allow drivers to stream Pandora in all of its 2011 model year vehicles. The third-party app will not cost anything extra, and drivers will be able to control it through Mini’s existing system, called Mini Connected.

Ford’s Sync system will get Pandora, with the added bonus that drivers will be able to control their music through voice commands.
Automotive supplier Visteon revealed a concept system that can stream Pandora through a standard 4G connection. Users will even be able to give songs a thumbs up or thumbs down like on the computer (though perhaps this duty should be left to the passenger).
Sony became the first company to offer head units that can control Pandora from Android and BlackBerry phones. The company says Pandora will come embedded in “multiple” units this year, and it uses Bluetooth to stream the music. The company is quick to point out that combined Android and Blackberry users outnumber those who own iPhones.

Alpine introduced the iDA-X305S stereo, which uses a 3G connection. However, this model requires an iPhone 3G or 3GS to work, leaving out Android and BlackBerry users — not to mention the 11 of us left in America without a smartphone.
A similar unit from Pioneer, the AVIC-X920BT, will also require an iPhone to stream the internet radio station. Some will see these connection issues as a limitation, but some of us still remember a time when there was no music on the internet, let alone having the internet in cars.
Cardenas announced that nine Pioneer car stereo models will now support Pandora Internet radio, up from two last year and the electronics manufacturer is partnering with Aha Radio to add Twitter, Facebook, and podcast support to a couple of its high-end audio dashboards. Aha Radio, originally an iPhone app, reads tweets and Facebook messages out loud via a robotic-sounding voice and has about 100 podcast series available for download. It also features some light location searching, will read local Yelp reviews, and has traffic reports.

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

OCar turns your iPhone to your car’s head unit

There are plenty of solution that will allow you to mount your iPhone to your car, OxygenAudio takes the idea to another level by creating the “oCar” – an amplified RDS car radio head unit specially made for the iPhone. It literally turns your iPhone to your car’s head unit, you can control all the your cars stereo function using the phones touch screen, listen to the music stored on your iPhone, and access your favorite app (pandora, maps, etc.) while the iPhone is being charged and docked to the head unit. The rotating mount holds your iPhone in landscape or portrait mode, it also pivots for that perfect viewing angle.

It appears that the oCar is basically a 4x55W, RDS tuner head unit with a built-in dock and hands free kit, it takes all your iPhone’s functions then seamlessly fuse it with your car, so it’s just a radio without an iPhone docked in it. Looks nice, however, it’s not clear if you would be able to control music using your cars steering wheel mounted playback controls. Lastly, a built-in airplay support could be nice, that way passengers can take over and stream music or video from their iOS device while you stay focused on driving.The unit is also compatible with iPhone 3G, 3GS and iPhone 4.

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HD Radio's big advantage over satellite

The huge Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is about all things digital, and increasingly applications best enjoyed from an armchair (including TV and Web access) have gone mobile with auto-based versions. One of the new frontiers is high-end car audio — not from a CD but from the radio.
There are cars everywhere at CES, from Aston-Martins to classic Camaros. The electric vehicle is being acknowledged at CES with a special Electric Vehicle TechZone from Audi, and EVs on display from Ford and General Motors.
One of the big sellers this year is likely to be aftermarket stereos that incorporate navigation and mimic the original equipment in new cars, but for half the price. Increasingly, these devices also incorporate features like satellite radio and a service I’m fascinated by, HD Radio.
According to Stephen Baldacci, a spokesman for HD Radio owner Ibiquity Digital (owned by a consortium of big-league radio owners such as Clear Channel), some 2,000 AM and FM radio stations now broadcast HD radio signals, which are transmitted digitally on frequencies between regular broadcast radio. Baldacci claims these local broadcasts reach 95 percent of all radio listeners in the U.S., but the rate of new stations going HD has slowed, largely because of cost issues in a radio recession.
At the CES show, Ashruf El-Dinary, a vice president of commercial applications at Ibiquity, sat with me in a HD-equipped Volkswagen. He said it costs stations $60,000 to $200,000 to go HD, depending on whether they need a new transmitter and other enhancements. Ibiquity has sold three million HD radios so far, and 17 auto brands now offer HD, and 37 models include it as standard equipment.
HD Radio sounds really good. Ibiquity’s claim is that FM sounds like CD, and AM like FM. On the VW, I listened to a country station playing Kenny Chesney and Joe Nichols, and the bass was really deep. Added features include a visual display of the artist playing with a photo, and tagging, which allows you to push a button and retain information on a song in an iPod playlist. Of course, you have to buy the songs for 99 cents each.
HD is a bit complicated for the novice. Tune into your standard station on an HD radio and you’ll hear it with enhanced sound and graphics. But the same station may also have an HD2 or HD3 channel with unique programming. As El-Dinary demonstrated, a station playing the Jack format on their main channel might offer an HD2 with smooth jazz and an HD3 with talk. NPR’s WAMU offers bluegrass on its HD2.
“HD is always local, and it’s always free,” said Baldacci. That last point is important when you compare HD to satellite radio. Consumers who are getting tired of paying for their SiriusXM subscription might want to investigate what they can get over the air, free. There are reportedly 1,000 channels of unique HD2 and HD3 programming, though it’s all local — only available within the range of the broadcast signal.
As I said, cars and audio are merging as digital products, and your next automobile purchase may be at a big-box store, with HD Radio and a built-in Web browser as part of the deal.

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Canadian Satellite loss for $2.2 million

Canadian Satellite said its average monthly subscription revenue per subscriber, or ARPU, increased to $11.40 from $11.26, marking the second consecutive quarter of ARPU growth, while the number of self-paying subscribers increased by 12.2 per cent to 439,300 from 391,600.

 Canadian Satellite Radio Holdings Inc. parent company of XM Canada, said Wednesday its adjusted operating loss increased in the first quarter despite higher revenues.
The company put its adjusted operating loss for the three months ended Nov. 30 at $2.2 million, up from $1.1 million in the same quarter last year. Per share figures were not given.Revenue rose 12.6 per cent to $15.4 million from $13.7 million in the prior-year period.
“Our high-quality programming and content are the foundation of our ability to attract and retain subscribers," XM Canada president and CEO Michael Moskowitz said in a news release.
"Despite challenges in the economy, revenue growth continues to be robust, driven by an increase in both ARPU and self-paying subscribers. The auto sector recovery and the expansion of our content delivery across multiple platforms – most notably in the online and mobile space – have also contributed to our solid results.”
Stock in the company, which reported after markets closed, was down five cents at $3.50 Wednesday on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

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