First came a radio in your dashboard, and then came … well, that was about it, bar a possible USB slot or a fancy iPod dock. Radio, however, no longer means just Classic FM and a crackly MW stations with the arrival of Aha by Harman's web-based text-to-speech concierge service.
Not surprisingly, it all starts with an app. Aha is available for iOS and Android tablets and smartphones, though the emphasis is definitely on the latter.
"While Aha works on tablets, we find that most drivers do not expect to use or bring their tablets into the car. For that reason, we've focused on building smartphone apps for iOS and Android," Robert Acker, VP of connectivity for Harman and GM of Aha's business, explained to TechRadar.
This time it's personal
Internet radio has been how drivers in the USA have been entertained on the road for yonks, but Aha isn't just about supplying drivers with linear radio stations. "Aha aims to bring a wealth of web-based content into vehicles in a radio-like format," says Acker.
"This of course includes internet radio and on-demand music services, plus much more. In all, Aha offers 30,000 stations of audio to choose from spanning music, news, podcasts, audiobooks, social media news feeds, location-based services and more. By making web-based content as easy to use as radio, we can expand beyond music services and do much more."
In terms of pure linear radio stations offered by Aha, that 30,000 figure doesn't include the CBS and Slacker stations broadcast in the USA, but it does add all the radio stations in the UK.
It also creates spoken word content tailored to the driver. "We use text-to-speech (TTS) recognition for Facebook and Twitter updates read aloud, and other location-based stations," says Acker.
Aha even includes the self-explanatory Hungry and Coffee local search options. "In the future you may see us use TTS for email and texts, but that feature isn't live today," says Acker. Nor is there any integration of Siri/voice control yet, but we may see that in future.
The Porsche man
Whether a new connected car app such as Aha achieves greatness has much to do with where and how it's available, and here Harman is making progress. In terms of being a built-in feature from the get-go, the full Aha experience is presently available only in Porsche vehicles in the UK, though it will soon be available on the Ford Sync AppLink - and more manufacturers' platforms will follow, we're told.
Harman promises that by the end of 2013 Aha will be integrated into vehicles by more than 10 car makers, which in total represent more than 50 per cent of all cars sold in the USA/Canada and up to 30 per cent in Europe, including Acura, Chrysler, Ford, Honda, Porsche and Subaru.
However, Aha is also a retrofit option. "In addition to working with top car makers to install Aha at the factory, the top three aftermarket manufacturers Alpine, Kenwood and Pioneer also manufacture head units that drivers can have installed in existing vehicles," says Acker. Getting the Griffin iTrip accessory is another way to get Aha in the car for a pittance.