Car Radio Technology and How It Has Evolved

Despite the fact that “car radio” is still a fairly commonly used phrase, these days “car radio” means so much more than just that.

From the start of the auto era, if anybody knew how to put a home radio into their car it was pretty much the only option. These were usually DIY and tweaked versions of home radios, home stereos, that the typical tinkerer might have come up with. The early era car technology did not include radios, owners were forced to come up with their own way to bring music along.

In the 60s we saw the advent of reel-to-reel players which shortly thereafter lead to 8-track cartridges, and ultimately the iconic cassette tape of the late 70s and 80s. CDs first made their appearance on the car audio scene in 1985 – now 28 years ago!

Since CDs, car audio has been much more digital focused and adaptive to computer technology as it has been developing in somewhat of a parallel fashion. Many of the same technologies have been used, and the trend of shrinking data down to the smallest phsyical units was very beneficial for car audio as portability was such a primary factor of consideration.

Now, who remembers what a car phone used to look like? I mean a real, honest-to-god, first generation car phone. The giant monster things that were permanently attached to your console. While it’s true that car audio equipment of generations past can and does look quite retro, the mobile phone technology we used to have looks absolutely prehistoric. This industry has been advancing at such an exponential rate that if you compare one of the pioneering pieces of technology against what you might find today you would barely recognize that they served the same function.

Today we are seeing a merging of these technologies into one unit that controls music, radio, communication, and so much more that we used to never dream about. MP3s have been a fundamental part of car audio for almost two decades. Cell phones are completely integrated thanks to Bluetooth wireless systems. And more and more we are seeing these control units incorporating features and abilities of our computers and smartphones.

The most recent generation of in-car consoles – components like the Sony MirrorLink or the Clarion Next GATE – include all the popular apps you find everyone using today: Facebook, Twitter, Streaming Radio like Pandora, plus they have GPS navigation and more. Features are available today that before we never would have dreamed of.

When we also consider the development of these entertainment/information consoles in conjunction with the efforts that Google has been making to create an automated car that drives itself (the first license was given in Nevada just a few weeks ago), one has to wonder what the next few decades will bring when it comes to in-car technology. Or just the next handful of years, even!

Jim Sorenson knows cars, music, and tech gadgets. Learn more about all three at his personal blog.
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