Spotify’s in-car entertainment device ‘Car Thing’ is now publicly available

Spotify’s oddly named in-car entertainment system, “Car Thing,” is now available to the general public after initial tests that began in 2019. The now $89.99 device — a $10 increase from its limited public release in October — is largely targeted toward vehicle owners who don’t have a built-in infotainment system offering easy access to Spotify, like Apple’s CarPlay or Android Auto.

Car Thing connects with the Spotify mobile app on your phone, then uses the phone’s cellular signal (or Wi-Fi, if available) to stream your music or podcasts over the car’s sound system. The device itself works with USB, Bluetooth and Aux.

The company first began its experiments with Car Thing to learn more about how Spotify users engaged with its service in the vehicle. Over the years, the device’s hardware and industrial design evolved from a smaller item plugged into the car’s cigarette lighter to a more consumer-friendly product with a big knob, colorful touchscreen, voice control features and lots of different connection and mounting options.

Image Credits: Spotify

Today, Car Thing allows users to interact with Spotify’s service either by saying “Hey Spotify,” tapping its touchscreen, turning the dial or using one of the four preset buttons at the top of the player, which can connect you to your favorite artists, stations, playlists or podcasts.

During tests, Spotify found that users preferred Car Thing to their previous in-car media experience and liked being able to use Spotify’s voice commands to engage with their media. As a result, the company said users began to listen to Spotify in their car more than before, though the company declined to share any specific metrics to further illustrate this point, when asked. (Arguably, the project had to be at least somewhat successful for Spotify to make the player available to the wider public.)

The company did offer a window into the consumer demand for the product when CEO Daniel Ek said during Spotify’s Q3 earnings call that it saw more than 2 million users sign up on Car Thing’s waitlist within a matter of months.

The version of Car Thing that’s shipping to the public is the same as before, but will soon add some small software updates. The device will gain a Night Mode feature, which dims the screen’s brightness in the evening, similar to how navigation apps work. It also will introduce an “Add to Queue” voice command, which will allow you to add music or podcasts to your queue by speaking. Spotify says these will roll out with future Car Thing updates. (The company told CNET it will add support for using other audio apps with Car Thing in the weeks ahead, but did not note this in its own announcement.)

Image Credits: Spotify

Before today, Car Thing was only available to select U.S. users who joined the waitlist and had a Premium account (either an Individual, Family or Student plan). The Premium requirement remains, but the waitlist is being dropped. However, Car Thing is still a U.S.-only product for the time being. (The $89.99 price includes the shipping fees, Spotify says.)

The only other change is to the Car Thing’s packaging. The formerly pink box is now a shade of green — though a much minty-er version than found in Spotify’s branding, like its app icon. The image on the box also now shows the user interface in action.

While Spotify’s Car Thing could be useful for subscribers who want to upgrade their Spotify listening experience in the car, the device ultimately serves as a way for Spotify to collect firsthand data about how users engage with Spotify when on the road. Plus, given the need to operate the player hands-free while driving, it gives Spotify access to users’ voice data, as well, which could help it to improve its service over time.