Spotify’s Awful Car Music Gizmo Is Now Available To The U.S. Public

Spotify’s Awful Car Music Gizmo Is Now Available To The U.S. Public
Contributor: Adam Ismail

Spotify’s Car Thing — a music-playing gizmo that mounts to a climate vent or CD slot and connects to older cars via Bluetooth or an aux jack — is now available to the pubic after a lengthy limited-release, invite-only phase. Initially, Spotify Premium subscribers could get them for free. “Free” happened to be the right price for the Car Thing, because it requires an active Premium subscription to work. However, with this wide-scale release, the Car Thing will cost money: $US90 (around $125).

The idea behind the Car Thing is reasonable and one I figure many of us on this pokey car site can relate to: You want to listen to music from your streaming service of choice inside your car, but your car happens to be old. Crucially, it’s from that annoying period between, say, 2005 and 2013, when vehicles came with aux jacks or Bluetooth audio capabilities, but intuitive touchscreen interfaces weren’t a thing yet, let alone CarPlay and Android Auto. Car Thing intends to fix that. I’ve never used one, but it’s a slick-looking piece of hardware. I see the appeal.

The trouble is that Car Thing is a Spotify product and, as such, only works with Spotify. Sure, most people are likely married to their platforms and ecosystems of choice by now. If you had an iPhone for a decade, you’re probably not going to switch to Android, and the same may be true of the place you go to get your music. But if you envision even the slightest outside chance that there might come a day where you stop paying for Spotify, the Car Thing becomes a brick. Metaphorically, anyway — this brick is too slender, light and plasticky to use to build a home or bludgeon someone, so it’s technically even less useful than an ordinary brick would be.

Regardless of where you fall on the Joe Rogan thing, lots of people who had one time been happy paying Spotify customers would’ve essentially burned $US90 (around $125) by buying a Car Thing, then leaving the platform. I ditched Spotify myself recently, not because of Rogan but rather because Apple randomly offered me six free months of Apple Music. All these services are functionally the same and equally shitty to artists at the end of the day. I don’t know if I’ll stay with it after the trial is up.

Point is, if you can avoid it, it’s always a bad idea to buy electronics — or any product, really — where the entire functionality is contingent upon you paying a subscription fee forever. Maybe I could stomach the glorified Spotify remote, as The Verge accurately put it, if it cost $US20 (around $28). That’s low stakes. But $US90 (around $125)? There are a variety of dongles that do basically what the Car Thing does, in that they interface with your car’s speakers through Bluetooth or aux, for less than half the price of the Car Thing. The only difference is that if you ever decide to stop giving Spotify money, they continue working with other streaming platforms. Also, they might be less likely to listen to your conversations.

OK, sure: The other big difference is that your cigarette lighter-Bluetooth-aux-dongle contraption isn’t going to have a screen. But you know what does? The phone you probably already mount to your dash in some fashion, if you have a car so old that you’re interested in the Car Thing in the first place. Because Car Thing doesn’t display anything other than Spotify, chances are you’d still need your phone rigged up to your dashboard in some fashion for navigation anyway.

It’s a shame, because this could be a handy little device for folks with older cars if it didn’t have such a restrictive feature set. But those limitations are precisely why Car Thing exists — it’s just another way for Spotify to lock people in. It might’ve even been priced higher if Spotify couldn’t count on all its customers already being Premium subscribers. And, because I know somebody out there will compare Car Thing to one of those old Sirius or XM satellite radio receivers: That was a time before smartphones, when the only way to listen was to buy their hardware. Unless you really yearn for those days, the Car Thing makes zero sense.

Editor’s note: Spotify told Gizmodo Australia that release of The Spotify Car Thing is currently limited to the U.S.. We’ll keep you updated when we know, but for now, let’s just admire the thing from afar.

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