Podcasts and audiobooks are great ways to pass the time on long car drives, but there are plenty of shows, comedy specials, and other content on streaming services that could serve the same role. Why can’t I listen (not watch) them in my car, too?
Listen, Not Watch
There are a few ways to play video from YouTube, Netflix, and other platforms in cars, but they are mostly intended to be used while the car is parked. Netflix is available on the dashboard screen on Tesla cars — a helpful feature for when the battery is charging at a station, or you’re waiting to pick someone up. The Vivaldi web browser on Polestar’s electric cars 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 self-contained Android devices that send a video signal through a car’s Apple CarPlay or Android Auto mode. A simple car vent phone mount would also do the job. Even though those options can be used legally in some areas (with the car parked or turned off), the potential for misuse means they aren’t officially supported by companies like Google, Apple, Netflix, or Disney.
I’m not too interested in watching videos on my car’s built-in display — partially because my current vehicle is a gas-powered Hyundai Kona, which can’t sit idle without dumping carbon monoxide and other emissions into the atmosphere. However, I do want to listen to the audio from content on streaming services while I’m driving, without the video feed. 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 the phone apps could also work without any video feed, as it would still reduce driving distractions and mobile data usage relative to streaming normal video.
The best use case for a feature like this could be stand-up comedy specials, where the visual component is usually just someone walking around on a stage. Other media categories would be more hit or miss, but many comedies and dramas could be somewhat enjoyable without a screen, especially if it’s already something you’ve seen before. Think about how many times you’ve had a TV on while checking your phone or cleaning your home — it’s the same principle.
Would most content be less entertaining without the visual element? Definitely! Would directors like Martin Scorsese be upset that I’m not enjoying their hard work as they were intended to be viewed? Possibly! However, if I’m already paying for access, I should be able to play it wherever and however I want. Listening to the audio from an episode of The Next Generation or Scrubs that I’ve already seen can be a good break between binging podcasts or listening to Spotify playlists.
A Better Solution
It’s technically possible to listen to the audio feed from shows and movies with Bluetooth audio or an aux cable, and simply not look at the connected phone. However, that still uses the same amount of cellular data as if you were watching the content normally, and most streaming apps don’t have hands-free controls. YouTube can switch to background audio playback if you have a Premium subscription, but there’s not an 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 audio car integration 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 seemingly only works if a given video is marked as music by the uploader.
The next time I drive six-and-a-half half hours to visit family, I’d appreciate the option to pass the time with my favorite TV shows… without watching them.