The creators of “Get Smart” were surely ahead of their time. The sticom hit the TV airwaves in 1965, featuring Maxwell Smart (technically Agent 86,” an agent working for CONTROL, struggling to thwart the evil KAOS.”) Get Smart” was a comedy spin-off from the highly popular James Bond movies that created a hit genre back in the early 60's – and is still viable today.
Just as 007 had hi-tech gadgets at his disposal, so did Smart – including the famous shoe phone (pictured above). But now in looking back at the hit series, perhaps the most prescient thing about it was the word that has become ubiquitous at CES over the past few years:
Each January, gadgets come and go at CES. One year, it's wearables. The next, it's autonomous cars. Or maybe virtual or augmented reality.
But the one trend line that has gone straight up has been the “Smart Revolution.” I typically open our “What Happened At CES” webinar presentations each year with a segment we call “Dumbest of Show.”
It features “smart” gadgets that often beg the question, “What on earth do we need this for?” Between the smart umbrella, the smart bottle opener, smart underwear, and of course, smart toilets (actually the Kohler model shown center bottom is branded as the “intelligent toilet”), innovators are riding a wave where common gadgets that have been a part of people's lives for centuries become transformed by technology. But it's not always pretty.
But crackpot inventions aside, innovators are working relentlessly to make gadgets more intuitive, thanks to baked-in Artificial Intelligence features that track behavior and become (at times) constructively predictive in anticipating that we actually want that grande frappucchino from the Starbucks located 1.1 miles away from our office.
If you believe the predictions of a recent Statista report, this trend will only accelerate in the next four years.
It was the “Home Entertainment” entry that caught my eye. Statista's Digital Market Outlook team projects more than 46 million U.S. households in the next four years will have access to gadgets and technology that will make it even easier to pass the time. No doubt that trend has accelerated these past few months.
This year's Techsurvey 2020, conducted among core radio listeners, suggests Statista's numbers may be low. Our study showed six of every ten respondents (60%), now own a “smart TV,” while one-third (33%) have brought at least one “smart speaker” into their homes.
The implications for broadcast radio are enormous. The good news is that many radio listeners use Amazon Alexa, Google Home, and similar voice controlled devices to access broadcast radio stations. We have urged broadcasters to actively promote their stations' availability on smart speakers, as well as on wireless home speaker systems like Sonos.
Listening to “radio” on smart TVs is a trend that is likely to become more common as well. On Xfinity X1 remotes (yes, they're “smart,” activated by your voice), Radio.com has created a nifty application that makes it easy to access their portfolio of stations on your TV.
Hopefully, this trend will expand because “regular radios” at home are going the way of landlines and milk chutes.
A short trip to the garage opens the door to a conversation about “smart cars.” They aren't marketed this way (but perhaps they should be). Over the past decade+, our dashboard screens and ecosystems have become more sophisticated with each passing year. Pairing our phones, using voice commands, and punching up dashboard apps for navigation, search, and entertainment have all become part of the driver and passenger experience.
From the original Ford SYNC that first started showing up in vehicles in 2008 to Tesla's today, these “smart dashboards” do more and more to connect us humans to the media, information, and entertainment we need.
Except these systems still aren't being used by a large portion of the owners of these vehicles, according to the newest report from J.D. Power.
Their 2020 Initial Quality Study reveals that while “smart dashboards” are showing up in an increasing number of vehicles of all sizes and price ranges, they continue to be problematic.
A recent story in The Drive by Patrick George, says it all:
“The Infotainment Systems Are Still Bad” blares the headline.
In a sub-headline, George quotes the money stat from newly released J.D. Power data:
“Almost one fourth of all problems cited by new-vehicle owners relate to infotainment”
The story quotes J.D. Power VP, Dave Sargent, who talks about the “unnecessary complexity of the dashboard systems. Other frequently reported driver frustrations include problems with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, overall connectivity, and in-car apps provided by the manufacturer.
For me, and a few hundred others, that quote from Sargent was a case of déjà vu all over again. Dave was a featured speaker at our 2015 DASH Conference here in Detroit – and he pretty much said the same thing about “smart cars” back then.
I can tell you these systems, in reality, have gotten better. In fact, J.D. Power notes the Hyundai Group is on top, followed by the three Detroit automakers. Then comes the Japanese, followed by the Europeans.
But that problem with “unnecessary complexity” goes to the root of the “smart car” problem – and points to why broadcast radio is still the king of the car dashboard:
When we ask Techsurvey respondents the main reasons they listen to broadcast radio, look at what is sitting at the top of the heap:
In many ways, radio broadcasters are getting a reprieve in the car, thanks to in-dash ecosystems that are still too “smart” for their own good.
While that trend has now stretched out for more than a decade – thanks in no small part to the reality there's no universal dashboard standards by auto manufacturers – the clunkiness of these systems will no doubt diminish over time.
And that will mean radio broadcasters will, in fact, be competing against everything in their #1 listening location, the car:
Satellite radio, streaming audio, podcasts, talking books, and even video.
While it's impressive how the majority of radio companies have stepped up in the “distribution” department, making sure their stations are accessible on mobile phones, smart speakers, and other devices, it's the “content” piece that looms as the biggest challenge to the industry's ability to survive – and thrive in this crowded in-car environment.
What is it about broadcast radio that will earn a “preset” in a driver's mind? Or better put, why would someone riding along in a car ask the vehicle to access a local radio station? What's in it for them in a landscape overrun by so many options.
What is radio's “job to do” in smart cars?
The J.D. Power data compel automakers to focus even more on simplicity, ease of use, and a stronger UX – or User Experience.
If there was a similar study for radio, it would likely urge us to turn our efforts inward on the product, the experience, the raison d'être of why radio matters in an infotainment environment that gets better by the year.
That would be really “smart.”