When Panasonic Automotive bought the internet radio service Aupeo in 2013, it was clear that the Berlin-based streamer was going to head off in a different direction from rivals such as Pandora.
And now we know how. In the coming days, Aupeo Personal Radio will become Personal Radio by Aupeo — this may sound like a trivial rebranding effort, but it marks the birth of a new app, focused heavily on the in-car experience, that’s going to try to be the only audio app that drivers need.
First, function: Personal Radio will do what it says on the tin, allowing drivers to set up highly personalized streams that present audio content in a timely manner. So for example, whereas drivers usually have to wait until fixed times to hear the traffic report, Personal Radio will instead time these reports according to when the journey’s taking place.
Over time, the stream will also gain weather, news and sports reports, according to the driver’s wishes as pre-set through the app — here, Aupeo’s teaming up with content providers such as [company]CBS[/company] News and AccuWeather.
Of course, music and talk radio will probably form the bulk of the experience. On that front, Personal Radio will still offer its genre-based mixes that learn from the user’s demonstrated tastes, and the user will also still be able to mix in tracks and podcasts that are stored on her mobile device. The app can figure out when to use what – if the car is roaming outside national borders, or if the connection is too patchy to allow live music streaming (buffering creates copyright issues), then it will switch to stored tracks.
App competing with app platforms
Personal Radio is, shall we say, interestingly positioned. On the one hand, it’s an app that will run on [company]Google[/company]’s Android Auto and [company]Apple[/company]’s CarPlay. Users can download it for free and pay $4.99 each month, and they can also shell out $9.99 to activate the car mode.
However, that car mode, with its minimalist UI, is also a reference design for car manufacturers. Panasonic Automotive provides audio technology for car-makers from [company]Chevrolet[/company] and [company]Acura[/company] to [company]Toyota[/company] and [company]Volkswagen[/company], and Personal Radio is ripe for re-skinning and integration into such manufacturers’ proprietary on-dashboard platforms – which are to some extent competing with those of Apple and Google.
Aupeo chief Holger Weiss said in an interview that bringing rows of app icons onto the dashboard, as the phone OS vendors are doing, doesn’t solve any problems — though he did suggest that the familiarity of the format would at least help educate users about what’s possible. “On the other side, we’re positioning this as a dedicated audio platform, enabling car-makers to create their own experiences,” he said.
“Car-makers have to make a bet on how far they should rely on third parties for ecosystem and how far to create their own one. We’re giving car-makers a very strong tool to keep control,” Weiss added. It’s not hard to see why the manufacturers want to keep their options open – they’re operating on very long production cycles, the connected car industry is still very young, and no-one really knows how it’s going to shake out yet.
Incidentally, Weiss also said that, although the app will rely on Aupeo’s longstanding internet radio services for streaming, there are “considerations to open the platform to third parties.” That also makes sense – if Personal Radio is going to fulfil its mission of being the only audio app drivers need, it’s probably going to have to take in more sources that drivers might ask for.