Shazam on the road: why music is the next big step for connected cars

It was a song on the car radio that did it. Driving along, someone at SEAT liked the sound of what they heard, fumbled around for their phone to ‘Shazam it’ and through all of the fuss of having to unlock the phone, open the app, not to mention the danger this entails while driving, missed it. 

“We discussed this in the office and decided to get in touch with Shazam - we just assumed that there would be a solution on the market already,” says Fabian Simmer, Digital Officer at SEAT. “We thought it would be impossible that nobody else has thought about integrating this into a car.”

Simmer was wrong. No other car company had made the call to Shazam – they were the first. This was even more surprising when Shazam revealed to SEAT that between 70 to 80% of Shazams were being made at 30Kmph. 

The car was already the place where the service was predominantly used, presumably by bored passengers or one-handed drivers. This was music to the ears of SEAT so the team got to work.

“We sat down with our developers and the connected car team and started developing a solution of what Shazam would look like in a SEAT car. Two months later we presented what we had to Shazam,” notes Simmer.

In those two months, SEAT used its testing simulators in its headquarters in Martorell, Spain to try out the car version of Shazam that will become available within the SEAT DriveApp for Android Auto this April. (Note that no Apple CarPlay alternative has been offered as yet, despite the Cupertino company having recently purchased the song recognition service.)

Much of that testing was to do with making sure the service is as distraction-free as possible but also that it, well, works.

“We have to fit the legal requirements to make sure that we pay attention with the distraction rules,” says Leyre Olavarria, Head of Connected Car at SEAT.

“We then add our own requirements on top. We do tests with measurements, how long it takes you to make an action. We also know where you are looking and how long you are distracted from the road. It is a priority for us, everything we bring to the car has to be done in a safe way.”

For Olavarria, the digital tests are much like the classic tests they currently do on making their cars. 

“We develop and test and make sure everything is working properly with zero errors. Then when we are really really happy and 200% sure that we have zero errors we launch a product. 

“Now we are doing the same with digital and that’s why we test things on our digital laps to make sure they are up to a standard and we will then test it on certain groups, update the software if needed then push it to market.

A smartphone with four wheels

Like much of the auto industry, SEAT has embraced the idea of the connected car. It added Alexa to some of its line-up in 2017, the first to do so in Europe. 

But there is an issue that still needs to be overcome and that’s how you best marry the tech world with the car world, when both work within very different time frames.

“SEAT has tech cycles of four years, where in the mobile phone industry they have development cycles of six months to one year,” notes Olavarria. “So, how do we merge these two worlds? At the moment, when we offer a Shazam solution or an Alexa solution we try and find gateways to get in the car, but this will be heavily improved next year when the new generation of infotainment systems comes. 

"It will already have that gateway integrated to develop these things in an easier and faster way. That will be through OTA updates. All of our line-up will eventually have this system.”

“If you imagine the car is like a smartphone on four wheels, where you can update it, upgrade it, then almost everything will be possible,” says Simmer. 

“If you want to get new partners on board, new functionality… that’s what the new system will offer. And infotainment is just one part.”

Marc Chacksfield

Marc Chacksfield is the Editor In Chief, at DC Thomson. He started out life as a movie writer for numerous (now defunct) magazines and soon found himself online - editing a gaggle of gadget sites, including TechRadar, Digital Camera World and Tom's Guide UK. At Shortlist you'll find him mostly writing about movies and tech, so no change there then.