As infotainment features in cars proliferate, could there be anything more superfluous than an album cover displayed on a car’s touchscreen?
I thought efforts to limit distracted driving were spreading, from automakers and suppliers to Silicon Valley and law enforcement. Standing intact, however, is the apparent belief one can’t enjoy listening to Tom Petty without seeing his face grinning from a corner of said screen.
I’m guessing the rationale is that the album art somehow enhances the listening experience. Funny, I don’t remember scrutinizing the album-cover art to enhance my experience of blasting the Ramones’ “Road to Ruin” from my Dual turntable and Technics speakers back in the analog ’70s. And in any case, I wasn’t driving.
But there they are now, easily linked from a smartphone to the infotainment system, whether it be General Motors’ IntelliLink or MyLink, Ford’s MyFordTouch, Chrysler’s Uconnect, Toyota’s Entune, etc.
My skepticism about the value of this particular touchscreen interface, so to speak, was challenged as soon as I started researching the topic.
One of the first hits to come up in my search of “album cover” and “touchscreen” was a Toyota owner’s dilemma on the toyotanation.com website from 2012: “I purchased a new Camry Hybrid XLE with the standard head unit (display audio 6.1-in. [15.4-in.] screen). Upon connecting my iPhone 4, the music plays back fine but the album cover art does not show up. The cover art shows up in my iPhone just fine. Does my head unit lack this feature or am I missing something?”
Ten responses later, the relieved, reconnected Camry owner was able to say: “Thank you all! I got it working via usb connection on my iPhone 4. Haven't tried the (Bluetooth) connection yet. I was confused because the manual only shows the diagram for the 8 button DA interface and I missed the ‘setup’ button to the right of the CD insert slot.”
Ah, it’s working! The Black Keys! There they are! Let’s go places!
Elsewhere were complaints about pixilation in the touchscreen of the MyFordTouch option in Ford’s Sync system, glitches in aftermarket hardware and Apple software. So I had to conclude that people take pretty seriously the idea of cruising and listening to Katy Perry with a 4-sq.-in. (25-sq.-cm) image of sultry Katy along for the ride.
Not everybody, however. This from a poster on hyundai-forums.com: “A minor annoyance on the list (for switching folders) thing. Album covers – who cares.”
I’m curious as to whether buyers of Hyundai’s upcoming hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle will have misgivings about playing Led Zeppelin’s debut album with that image of the hydrogen-filled Hindenburg airship going up in flames filling their touchscreen.
SiriusXM Radio offers audio-system art, as well, depending on the system it’s being pumped into. During a run-through of stations during a recent test drive of a Lexus CT 200h, the touchscreen presented familiar faces – Red Hot Chili Peppers, Lorde, Foo Fighters, etc. – both in photographs and album covers.
The XMU alternative-music channel was pounding out a frenzied number titled “Wasted Days” by the Cloud Nothings. Not shown was the Cleveland garage band, only a default photo captioned “Alternative” and showing a shirtless guy photographed from behind, apparently on stage and strangling a microphone stand.
Clearly, the Cloud Nothings haven’t arrived yet, even though they’ve recorded four albums and are about to embark on a tour of Europe and Australia. But I think it’s only a matter of time before my wife and I, who saw them play earlier this month at a dodgy bar in downtown Detroit – can gaze at our touchscreen and say, “We knew them when…”