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Pioneer's Smart Unit Receiver lets you add Android to your auto
TWENTY years ago, in-car entertainment consisted of some music blaring out of your stereo system. You either listened to the radio, or popped in a compact disc (CD), or even a cassette for those old enough to know what that is.
But thanks to smartphones, mobile entertainment has evolved into much more than just music. You now have videos and games at your fingertips on your mobile device, too.
It's along those lines that Pioneer has come up with the Smart Unit Receiver, a sort of car stereo-tablet mashup.
Essentially, the Smart Unit Receiver is an Android tablet that doubles as your vehicle's stereo system. The S$898 system consists of the SPH-T20BT audio receiver and the SDA-835TAB, an 8-inch removable display that you can carry around with you.
Car brands such as BMW and Bentley have similar in-vehicle tablets that let users control various car functions such as seat massagers or what's playing on the radio, but Pioneer says its system is the first of its kind in the market, and lets drivers take their in-car infotainment with them. Talk about entertainment on the go.
The Smart Unit Receiver's key feature is that the display functions as a full-blown mobile tablet, with certified access to the Google Play Store. A Pioneer spokesperson told The Business Times that although there are products from China with similar functions, none of them are endorsed by Google. That makes them susceptible to security vulnerabilities, and it means they won't be able to receive official system updates from Google.
That aside, the Smart Unit Receiver opens up entertainment choices significantly for the user. Aside from the usual radio (have you tried Money FM 89.3?) and Bluetooth connectivity for pairing your smartphone, you can also stream music through apps such as Spotify.
Given that you'll have full access to the Google Play Store, it also means that you could download video streaming apps such as YouTube or Netflix onto the Smart Unit Receiver.
The prospect of drivers watching videos on the move does sound a bit worrying, but Pioneer itself cautions drivers against doing so while actually driving.
Instead, the company helpfully suggests that you use the system as an entertainment option for other passengers.
The implications for family types are obvious. Detach the tablet, pass it to the children in the back, and proceed in peace. The kids can play games or watch whatever it is children watch on tablets these days, and continue to use the device out of the car once you reach your destination.
To make full use of the Pioneer's abilities, you'll need a working Internet connection, which usually means tethering it to your smartphone.
That means being able to use Google Maps, or whichever navigation app you prefer, plus a plethora of apps to help you find available parking lots in town, or check out the congestion status at the Causeway.
Essentially, if an app is on the Google Play Store, it's available on the Pioneer. The system does have a fairly limited 16GB of storage, but it's expandable if you get an SD card.
The Smart Unit Receiver is also one way to update an older car that doesn't come with the apps and connectivity that new models offer through their touchscreen systems.
That could give Pioneer a sizable market for the system. Around 40 per cent of the 631,266 cars on Singapore roads are more than five years old, and unlikely to have the features found on the Smart Unit Receiver.
For its part, Pioneer says the system has been selling "extremely well". Whether it's because the Smart Unit Receiver has a detachable component or because drivers are keen to have Google apps in their car is anyone's guess, but the cure for drivers' infotainment woes might just be in Pioneer's new tablet.