Why is In-Car USB Reading so Poor?

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Car MP3 Technology, apparently
Car MP3 Technology, apparently

Why is it so difficult for car manufacturers to make cars that play MP3s?

Today’s hire car was an almost new Vauxhall (Opel) Meriva. It has a USB slot so I plugged my USB pen drive in it, “no data recognised” said the dashboard, “you can unplug the device.” There was nothing special about the device, just a plain USB pen drive with a handful of folders in the root dir and in each folder a handful of MP3s with a M3U playlist file. It’s difficult to imagine what could be simpler, so why is General Motors’ entertainment system not able to cope with this?

I’ve had similar problems in other new cars too. I know cars have a long development cycle and therefore we can’t expect all the very latest gadgets in them but there have been cheap commercial MP3 players that can cope with a few folders and MP3 files on the market for more than 10 years. There really is no excuse now.

In contrast my previous hire car was a Volkswagen Golf. Whilst initially annoying that I had to copy my “driving” MP3s to an SD card as this is preferred to a USB slot, the Golf had a neat little menu structure and worked very well.

Yes, there is another argument – most car manufacturers seem to have got Bluetooth integration working, so why don’t I just pair the car to my phone and play music from my phone? Because I want to change the music occasionally. DragonForce isn’t really ideal music when you rock up to the back of a huge traffic jam, perhaps Bat For Lashes or Portishead. Although if mounted to something it’s not technically illegal it wasn’t technically illegal when I wrote the article for me to operate my phone whilst driving it’s still fiddly to use and the voice command is good for a laugh but nothing more.

A simple menu structure and simple easy to use controls beat trying to fiddle with my phone hands down. I really don’t understand why it’s so difficult for some manufacturers to provide it.