It's fascinating to think about how far and fast car radio technology has evolved. You can't even really just call it "car radio" anymore, because it includes so much more than that.
From the start of the auto era, if anybody knew how to put a home radio into their car it was pretty much the only option. These were usually DIY and tweaked versions of home radios, home stereos, that the typical tinkerer might have come up with. Rarely, if ever, was anything actually included in the initial manufacturing build of those older automobiles any time before the 50s / 60s (it is difficult to find an exact date / model car that first shipped with a radio factory installed).
In the 60s there were reel-to-reel players which quickly evolved into 8-track cartridges, which then in turn also quickly evolved into cassette tapes by the late 70s. 1985 saw the first car CD player – now 28 years ago!
After CDs arrived, it became clear that digital was the way to go and we soon saw car technology following the path of the computer system. Many of the same technologies have been used, and the trend of shrinking data down to the smallest phsyical units was very beneficial for car audio as portability was such a primary factor of consideration.
Now, who remembers what a car phone used to look like? A real, true, actual first gen car phone. The really big phones that you had to wire to your car itself. While it's true that car audio equipment of generations past can and does look quite retro, the mobile phone technology we used to have looks absolutely prehistoric. In-car technology has progressed at a lightning rate and if you compare the components from day one against what we have today then you might not even know they performed the same way.
Today we are seeing a merging of these technologies into one unit that controls music, radio, communication, and so much more that we used to never dream about. MP3s have been a fundamental part of car audio for almost two decades. Cell phones are completely integrated thanks to Bluetooth wireless systems. And more and more we are seeing these control units incorporating features and abilities of our computers and smartphones.
The latest generation of controllers created for car travel – controllers such as Sony's MirrorLink or the Clarion Next GATE – include all the popular apps you find everyone using today: Streaming radio, Facebook, Twitter, GPS, and the ability to add more, too. There is so much available to both driver and passenger that never used to be, and it can be right at your fingertips.
There are bright things coming for technology in the future – we see Google developing an automated car, as our information and entertainment consoles only get more and more robust. What will the next couple decades bring ?. Or even just the next few years!