Spotify Expands Auto Presence as Android App Comes to MirrorLink

DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images
Daniel Ek, CEO of Spotify, speaks to reporters at a news conference on May 20, 2015 in New York. 

As the streaming-audio wars move to the highway, Spotify has become the first prominent music streaming service available on car dashboards through the MirrorLink platform.

Spotify has moved one step closer to millions of car dashboards. The streaming service’s Android app is available starting today through MirrorLink, a standard for in-dash smartphone interfaces.

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The addition of compatibility with MirrorLink gives Spotify another foothold in streaming companies’ incipient battle for drive-time dominance. The Spotify app is already available through Apple’s CarPlay and Google’s Android Auto in-dash systems, as well as on connected-car platforms from BMW and Ford.

Jonathan Tarlton, senior manager for automotive business development at Spotify, says MirrorLink compatibility helps the service be where its users are. “We’re just getting started in going after the connected-car market, but really the time is right,” he tells Billboard.

Spotify for Android is accessible on MirrorLink through a new app called RockScout, which makes Spotify and potentially other music apps compatible with MirrorLink standards for driver safety.

“The whole concept is to give folks a more responsible way to use applications on their phone while driving,” says Alan Ewing, president and executive director of the Car Connectivity Consortium, which developed MirrorLink.

The consortium’s members include carmakers such as Volkswagen, GM, Toyota, Honda and Volvo along with smartphone manufacturers such as Samsung, Sony and LG. Ewing estimates MirrorLink is available on 100 million smartphones and installed on 20 million cars globally.

“Mirroring” platforms such as MirrorLink, CarPlay and Android Auto allow drivers to use their cars’ controls and speakers for apps that run on their mobile devices. Some carmakers, such as GM, also offer their own built-in interfaces.

For Spotify and other streaming services, it makes sense to make their apps available in as many in-car platforms as possible, says Jennifer Kent, connected-car analyst at Parks Associates. “We definitely see that music services are among the most popular in connected vehicles, because it rides the rails of consumer behavior in a vehicle already,” she tells Billboard.

MirrorLink already offered radio and music through miRoamer, an Australian digital media platform. Apple’s Carplay supports Apple Music, of course, along with Spotify, Rdio and iHeartRadio. On Google’s Android Auto, music options include Spotify, Google Play Music, Amazon Music, iHeartRadio and TuneIn Radio.

“We’re definitely working with new partners all the time,” Spotify’s Tarlton says.

According to Strategic Vision, which annually surveys 350,000 new-car buyers, 43 percent of purchasers from October 2014 to April 2015 said their cars have some form of streaming-app functionality. By comparison, about 67 percent of respondents said their cars allow them to plug a phone or MP3 player into a USB port.

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“Streaming is not as big, but it seems to be up-and-coming,” says Alexander Edwards, president of Strategic Vision.

In fact, when new car buyers were asked to name features they didn’t have but would look for in the future, streaming ranked in the top 30 out of a list of 200 features, according to the survey results.

According to a survey conducted earlier this year by Edison Research and Triton Digital, 35 percent of U.S. cell phone owners say they have listened to “Internet radio” by connecting their phones to their cars. That’s up from 6 percent five years ago. Among ages 12 to 24, the latest figure rises to 59 percent.

Streaming may have room to grow as an in-car listening option: 53 percent of adult respondents who’d driven or ridden in a car in the past month said they listen to AM/FM radio “most of the time” in their primary vehicle, compared with 9 percent for online radio.

Technologies incorporating streaming in the dashboard aren’t limited to new cars. The Consumer Electronics Association estimates 2015 sales of 5.1 million aftermarket head units. “With the recent product introductions from Kenwood and Pioneer of receivers that have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, we are starting to see the aftermarket bringing the type of tech consumers are seeing in new car commercials into people's existing cars,” says Laura Hubbard, a spokesperson for the association, in an email.

As streaming companies race to bring digital audio to the road, current interfaces may one day turn out to have been just a pit stop. Market research firm Gartner predicted in January that by 2020, 250 million cars will have a wireless network connection.

“We’re still in the early days,” says Strategic Vision’s Edwards.