Podcasts and audiobooks are great ways to pass the time on long road trips, but there are plenty of shows, comedy specials, and other content on streaming services that could play the same role. Why can’t I listen to them (not watch them) in my car too?
Listen, don’t look
There are several ways to play videos from YouTube, Netflix and other platforms in cars, but they are mainly intended for use when the car is parked. Netflix is available on the dashboard screen of Tesla cars – a useful feature when the battery is charging at a station or you’re waiting to pick someone up. Polestar’s electric car Vivaldi web browser can play from streaming services, and some other cars have similar capabilities.
There’s also an ecosystem of accessories that can bring streaming services to other cars, like standalone Android devices that send a video signal through a car’s Apple CarPlay or Android Auto mode. A simple car vent phone holder would also do the trick. Although these options box be used legally in some areas (with the car parked or turned off), the potential for misuse means they are not officially supported by companies like Google, Apple, Netflix or Disney.
I’m not too interested in watching videos on my car’s built-in screen, partly because my current vehicle is a gasoline-powered Hyundai Kona, which can’t sit idle without releasing carbon monoxide and other emissions in the air. However, I do I want to listen to the audio of content on streaming services while I drive, without the video stream. Ideally, apps like Netflix and Hulu would appear on my Android Auto home screen like Spotify and YouTube Music. Having an audio-only mode on phone apps could also work without any video streams, as it would further reduce driving distraction and mobile data usage compared to normal video streaming.
The best use case for a feature like this might be stand-up comedy specials, where the visual component is usually just someone walking around a stage. Other categories of media would be hit or miss, but many comedies and dramas might be somewhat enjoyable without a screen, especially if it’s something you’ve already seen. Think about how many times you’ve turned on a TV while checking your phone or cleaning your house – it’s the same principle.
Would most content be less entertaining without the visual element? Absolutely! Would directors like Martin Scorsese be upset that I didn’t appreciate their hard work the way they were meant to be seen? Maybe! However, if I already pay for access, I should be able to play it wherever and however I want. Listen to the audio of an episode of The next generation Where Scrubs which I’ve seen can be a nice break between binging podcasts or listening to Spotify playlists.
A better solution
This is technically possible to stream audio from shows and movies with Bluetooth audio or an aux cable, and just not watch the connected phone. However, this still uses the same amount of cellular data as if you were watching content normally, and most streaming apps don’t have hands-free controls. YouTube can switch to audio playing in the background if you have a Premium subscription, but there’s no easy way to start a certain video without reaching for your phone. Netflix was also testing an audio-only mode at one point on Android.
The only service that comes close to integrating car audio is YouTube Music, which supports both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. YouTube Music can play content from music labels and YouTube channels, but the latter apparently only works if a given video is marked as music by the uploader.
Next time I drive six and a half hours to visit my family, I’d appreciate the ability to pass the time with my favorite TV shows… without watching them.