On Tuesday, streaming media giant Spotify launched its first ever piece of hardware. Dubbed “Car Thing,” the device is meant to place a listener’s favorite music, playlists, and podcasts at their fingertips while they’re behind the steering wheel.
The Car Thing is a 4.8-inch-wide device aptly named for its intended use: in the car. Music lovers will be able to mount the little gadget inside of their vehicle and connect it to a 12-volt power supply. This lets the driver listen to their curated Spotify account without the need to fiddle with a phone (which can be a dangerous distraction) every time they sit in the driver’s seat.
There are two main ways to control the Car Thing: voice and touch.
Controlling the device hands-free is as simple as ushering the words “Hey Spotify,” followed by whatever someone might want to listen to. This can be an artist, song, album, genre, or even a podcast. The Car Thing employs four always-on microphones placed along the top of the device to hear the commands of the car’s occupants, and has the ability to understand more complicated instructions in order to shuffle a playlist or find music similar to what is currently playing.
Then there’s touch. Hands-on control was also something Spotify knew that it would need in order to be successful in a world of app-based devices.
While a driver can still manipulate the device via its touch screen, physical controls are paramount to the Car Thing’s design. The small display sensibly makes use of analog controls, including a large physical dial to steer through the menus. There are also four well-placed physical buttons on the top of Car Thing meant to be used like radio presets, providing quick access to someone’s favorite music, playlists, and stations. This kind of device interaction is often overlooked in the era of touch—our phones, computers, and many other everyday objects are controlled by simply pressing the screen. But giving a person a knob is a smart idea when the gizmo is intended for use in a car (and eyes should stay on the road).
Despite being a standalone control center for Spotify, the tiny apparatus will still need to be connected to a smartphone via a Bluetooth connection, meaning there’s no leaving the phone at home unless the plan is to drive without music.
After connecting a smartphone to both the Car Thing and in-car stereo, Spotify’s hardware acts as a remote to control the phone, which can remain in your cup holder or wherever you typically keep it. Since both the stereo and Car Thing share a connection to the phone, the dashboard-mounted gadget will intelligently pause and resume music should a phone call come in, and supports phone-based navigation systems.
This may seem like a familiar technology—after all, in-car radio has existed for decades and cell phones have had the Spotify app for years. However, sometimes having a single device that does just one job can feel useful. It may come in especially handy in older cars without touchscreen infotainment systems, or other vehicles that might not have Apple CarPlay or Android Auto readily integrated.
Spotify says that it’s not attempting to compete with those in-car infotainment systems, but instead further dive into its mission of creating a ubiquitous and harmonious listening experience in any scenario.
Spotify says the Car Thing is a “limited product launch” only available to US consumers with an active Spotify Premium account. Furthermore, it’s available on an invite-only basis, so you’ll need patience if you’re interested..
The anticipated retail price of the Car Thing will be $79.99, but people fortunate enough to get a spot on the waitlist will only have to pay for shipping—$6.99.
If you’re interested in playing the Car-Thing lottery, apply to be on the waitlist on Spotify’s website.