Spotify launches its first hardware device, a touchscreen player for your car called the “Car Thing”

While its name probably makes it sound like something an executive at Spotify thought of overnight, the Spotify ‘Car Thing’ has been in the works for years. It honestly makes sense, considering every one of Spotify’s competitors is in the hardware space too – Apple has the HomePod Mini and the AirPods complementing its Apple Music, and Amazon has the Echo series of smart speakers tying in with Prime Music. The Car Thing helps Spotify enter the hardware space too, and solidify its position in the one area where the market still remains untapped, and where honestly people require music/radio/podcasts the most… the car.

Picture this… you’ve got a long, 30-minute drive to work. A decade ago, you’d switch the radio on and listen to the news or some music. Now, you’re most likely to tune into your favorite podcast episode, or play music from a playlist on your streaming service. The software has evolved, although the hardware’s still playing catch-up. Not every car comes with a smart dashboard, and it can be a nuisance to constantly lift up your phone and unlock it to pick a song or a podcast episode… especially when you’re driving. That’s where the Car Thing comes in.

Issued as a limited release, Spotify’s Car Thing provides a bridge between your car’s speaker system and your favorite online streaming service. Available for free to a select group of applicants (you can sign up on Spotify’s Car Thing microsite), the Car Thing is a nifty little dashboard that brings Spotify to life in your automobile. It runs a version of the streaming company’s Car View, a simple interface that’s easy to use and navigate while driving, and while the device DOES have a touchscreen, it comes with physical dials and buttons that you can instinctively operate with your hand as you keep your eyes on the road.

The Spotify Car Thing is built to be compatible with vehicles regardless of make or model and displays a home screen with a touch-sensitive navigation dial slightly overlapping the screen to make the device look visually dramatic. The device comes with voice-controlled search too, and you can simply summon songs, artists, and playlists by using the command “Hey Spotify” before your query. Alternatively, you could rotate the dial to navigate the dashboard, increase or decrease volume, or press it to select songs or play/pause music. A button right below the dial lets you go back to the home screen, and 4 preset buttons on the top let you instantly play songs, stations, podcasts, or playlists of your choice.

Ultimately, the Car Thing works as a bridge between your phone and your car’s speaker system. It doesn’t sport a speaker of its own, instead, it connects to your car’s built-in speaker system either via Bluetooth or an aux cable. It still requires your smartphone too, given that it can’t connect to the internet independently. Sure, that sounds like a bit of a drag, but what Spotify is betting on is a much more intuitive and easy-to-use interface that lets you listen to your favorite talk shows and music without fiddling with your phone as you drive. The Car Thing ships with three mounting accessories for connecting it to a vent, the dashboard, or the CD player, and can be powered either by the USB port in your car, or a USB adapter that fits into the lighter socket. Sadly, the Car Thing isn’t quite available to the general public yet. You need to sign up on the Car Thing website and Spotify states that the device will only be available to “select” Spotify Premium members. To make up for that, the company is giving the Car Thing away at a 100% discount on its $79.99 price-tag. All you really need to pay is a nominal $6.99 shipping fee.

Designer: Spotify

The Car Thing sports a 4-inch touchscreen, with a durable construction and matte-textured rubber controls that are responsive and easy to use.

A rotating dial lets you quickly cycle through elements on your interface, and you can simply push the dial to select an item within your menu or press the home button below to go back to your home screen.

The upper edge of the Car Thing spots 5 buttons – 4 for dedicated presets, and a recessed button on the extreme right lets you either quick/mute a song, or access your settings. The device even comes with 4 microphones on the top, laid out in between each of the buttons, that run Spotify’s adaptive interference cancellation technology to help tune out the background noise and focus on your voice commands.

Each Spotify Car Thing ships in a kit that includes a USB cable to power the device, a 12V adapter for your car’s lighter socket, 3 different mounts to choose from, and a rubber cover for extending the primary dial’s lifespan.

Xiaomi’s new $59 Smart Clock is a super-affordable alternative to the Amazon Echo Show

I wouldn’t be surprised if you mistook the Mi Smart Clock for an Amazon Echo Show from afar. They both share a pretty similar front-view, with a landscape display accompanied by a thick bezel. The only difference is that the $59 smart speaker/clock doesn’t come with a camera embedded within the bezel. At that price, I wouldn’t expect it to… more so considering it costs just $30 in Xiaomi’s home country, China.

I’d hate to really harp on its price (after all we’re a design site), but the price of the Xiaomi Mi Smart Clock is really a feature, given most regular smart speakers cost nearly double… multiply it by 4 if you’re adding a display too. The price aside, the Mi Smart Clock is a nifty little smart-speaker with Google Assistant built-in. The display on the clock is a high-quality 3.97-inch touchscreen running MIUI, and can be used either to display images and photos from your camera roll, or as a clock (with a variety of themes to choose from). Aside from these two functions, the Mi Smart Clock allows you to connect it to a host of IoT devices too, letting you monitor and control a variety of other smart devices around your house (like your home security cam or smart lights) simply by summoning Google Assistant. The display acts as a dashboard for notifications too, and thanks to built-in Chromecast, you can beam music, videos, and other content from your smartphone or tablet to your Mi Smart Clock’s display (potentially allowing your kids to watch cartoons without having to give your phone to them). Of course, the Mi Smart Clock works as a regular smart-speaker too, letting you do things you’d normally do with your Echo or Google Nest speaker like play music, narrate the news, or tell you the weather.

In a market saturated with smart speakers, Xiaomi manages to strut in rather comfortably, thanks to its brand recognition and that frankly unbeatable price. Although given that tag, you’d have to wonder where the compromise lies… is it in the lack of a camera? Or in the fact that the company access to all your data?

Designer: Xiaomi

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This simple idea hopes to turn Amazon into the world’s biggest sustainable second-hand store

Ever wondered how difficult it is to get rid of stuff? Or rather, get rid of stuff at the right price? Our current e-commerce setup is perfect for buying and selling new things, but that’s about it… It doesn’t encourage thrifting, second-hand selling, renting, recycling, or repairing. You can ask Alexa to order you a coffee machine and it arrives at your doorstep the next day; but what do you do when the coffee machine needs repairing? Or if you want to sell the machine because you don’t really use it? That’s where Scott Amron’s brilliant idea comes in.

We spoke to Scott about Amazon After back in 2019 when it was just a nascent idea. Over the last year, Scott’s had some time to really develop the idea and flesh its details out. His idea broadly builds on Amazon’s ability to serve its customers, extending its world-class service beyond just the ‘Checkout’ button. With Amazon After, your product journey doesn’t end with the checkout. Amazon After actively manages your products after you buy them, giving you the ability to check their second-hand value, and resell them, rent them, recycle them, repair them, or donate them… or as Scott says, “Amazon After can add value to every Amazon purchase and extend the life cycle of the products Amazon sells. It puts the customer first, after.”

Scott describes Amazon After as a ‘very smart wanted ad’. Someone who wants to purchase a product gets the option of buying it second-hand at a lower price. They input their asking value and Amazon instantly notifies every single person who bought that product. If a product-owner finds the asker’s price agreeable, Amazon facilitates the purchase just like it would when you buy something from an Amazon Seller. The product is collected from one owner and delivered to the new owner, and Amazon gets a small cut… but more interestingly enough, it ensures people who don’t need a product aren’t forced to own it, and can easily get rid of it for a quick buck. What’s more exciting is that Scott believes this will actually drive people to use the Amazon service and the app much more, allowing them to easily open their past orders and see exactly how much all their products are worth on the second-hand market. If at any point in time you see a potential buyer quoting an amount of money you’re happy with, just agree to the trade and Amazon jumps in to be the facilitator. It also creates a powerful market for collectibles… something Scott noticed when he went to buy a BB8 toy for his child, only to see it was being resold as a collectible for nearly 10 times the actual retail price.

Obviously, this new buyer-seller interaction hinges solely on sellers conforming to the ‘trust code’. The ability to resell products would only be available to Prime members, creating an exclusive club of resellers (one that anyone can join), and these members will be expected to be honest while reselling their products, listing if it’s unused, overused, damaged, or defective. Moreover, the Amazon After feature also unlocks other abilities, like donating items, finding repairers, or efficient recyclers. If you have a niche product that requires an expert to fix (say a Smoke Alarm for example), Amazon currently doesn’t offer any after-sales services – apart from probably letting you download the user manual. With Amazon After, you can have the right people come over and fix it, or even dispose of it effectively for you, enabling it to be recycled properly. You see, Amazon already handles returns, so it’s just a small yet significant upgrade on their part to also handle reselling as well as repair… but for the consumer, it gives you a reason to shop on the e-commerce website knowing that you’ll be entitled to Amazon’s state-of-the-art services even after you hit that ‘Buy Now’ button. Not to mention the fact that it keeps products in circulation, so that the “Currently Unavailable” sign becomes a thing of the past and people are more inclined to buy, sell, and use pre-loved products… sort of like the world’s largest thrift or second-hand store!

Designer: Amron Experimental (Scott Amron)

The Amazon After service isn’t affiliated with or sponsored by Amazon. There is no existing partnership or collaboration between the service and Amazon. The Amazon trademark is owned by Amazon.

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