Spotify’s oddly-named in-car entertainment system, “Car Thing”, is now available to the general public after initial testing which began in 2019. The device is now $89.99 – a $10 increase over its limited public release in October – is largely aimed at vehicle owners who don’t have an integrated infotainment system that offers easy access to Spotify, like Apple’s CarPlay or Android Auto.
Car Thing connects to the Spotify mobile app on your phone, then uses the phone’s cellular signal (or Wi-Fi, if available) to stream your music or podcasts to the car’s audio system. The device itself works with USB, Bluetooth and Aux.
The company first began experimenting with Car Thing to learn more about how Spotify users interacted with its in-vehicle service. Over the years, the hardware and industrial design of the device has evolved from a smaller item plugged into the car’s cigarette lighter to a more user-friendly product with a large button, colorful touch screen, functions voice control and many different connection and mounting options.
Today, Car Thing allows users to interact with Spotify’s service by saying “Hey Spotify”, pressing its touchscreen, turning the dial or using one of the four preset buttons at the top of the player, which can connect you to your favorite artists, stations, playlists or podcasts.
During testing, Spotify found that users preferred Car Thing to their previous in-car media experience and liked being able to use Spotify’s voice commands to interact with their media. As a result, the company said users have started listening to Spotify in their cars more than before, although the company declined to share specific metrics to further illustrate the point when asked. (It’s safe to say that the project had to be at least somewhat successful for Spotify to make the player available to the general public.)
The company offered a window into consumer demand for the product when CEO Daniel Ek said on Spotify’s third-quarter earnings call that he had seen more than 2 million users sign up on Spotify. Car Thing’s waiting list in a matter of months.
The version of Car Thing that is delivered to the public is the same as before, but will add some small software updates soon. The device will get a night mode feature, which dims the screen brightness in the evening, similar to how navigation apps work. It will also introduce an “Add to Queue” voice command, which will allow you to add music or podcasts to your queue by speaking. Spotify says these will be rolling out with future Car Thing updates. (The company told CNET it will add support for using other audio apps with Car Thing in the coming weeks, but didn’t note this in its own announcement.)
Prior to today, Car Thing was only available to select US users who had joined the waitlist and had a Premium account (either an Individual, Family, or Student plan). The Premium requirement remains, but the waitlist is removed. However, Car Thing is still a US-only product at this time. (The $89.99 price includes shipping, Spotify says.)
The only other change is to the packaging of Car Thing. The old pink box is now a shade of green – albeit a much more minty version than that found in Spotify’s trademark like its app icon. The image on the box also now shows the UI in action.
While Spotify’s Car Thing could be useful for subscribers who want to improve their Spotify listening experience in the car, the device ultimately serves Spotify to collect first-hand data on how users interact with Spotify when they are on the road. Additionally, given the need to use the hands-free player while driving, it also gives Spotify access to users’ voice data, which could help it improve its service over time.