Internet-connected in-dash entertainment systems are quickly multiplying as manufacturers try to keep with the smartphone explosion.
Honda and Subaru, along with aftermarket radio makers such as Kenwood and Pioneer, have decided to give a company called Aha, owned by stereo maker Harmon, a try.
The just-introduced Subaru BRZ sports coupe has Aha, and Honda will be bringing it to the Accord this summer in its revamped HondaLink infotainment system. Honda's Acura division also showed off Aha in its RLX concept.
Unlike Ford's Sync, Cadillac's CUE or Toyota's Entune, Aha isn't a completeoperating system but rather a conduit to certain Web-based services.
Like Pandora, Aha serves as an in-dash app that requires driver to have a supported smartphone. Unlike Pandora, Aha brings many Web service providers into the automobile.
I've been using it for about a week on my Android smartphone. Current services include Internet radio stations, podcasts from the likes of NPR, Fox News and others. One of its neatest tricks is reading Facebook and Twitter posts out loud.
For Aha-equipped cars, it's all controlled by the touchscreen of the infotainment system. In my case, I used it the old fashioned way; connecting my smartphone to my car's stereo with an aux-in cable. I had the audio but none of the visuals or touchscreen commands that drivers with Aha Radio-ready receivers would experience.
While Aha is a neat idea, I ran into issues. I was running the Android version of the app on a Motorola Bionic, which has a dual core processor and 4G. The app froze at least four times.
However, there's a lot of potential, depending what deals Aha can strike with content providers. Other partners include Slacker, CBS Radio and MOG. With 4G coverage getting better every day, you have to wonder how much longer it will be until Internet radio starts making a real dent in satellite radio's audience.
Aha also makes a lot of sense for auto manufacturers because new content can be continually added without the user needing to upgrade his head unit, just as users continually add new apps to their smartphones over the course of several years.
While it remains to be seen whether Aha really marks an 'Aha' moment in the auto industry as Netflix was for the streaming video industry, it does offer a glimpse at how the Internet will be changing our in-car experience over the next few years.