Spotify’s Car Thing Is a Cautionary Tale About Connected Automotive Products

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

Spotify has found itself on the receiving end of consumer backlash after announcing it would no longer continue support of its Car Thing media device. The company discontinued the unit shortly after its release and has since confirmed it will be launching a firmware update at the end of 2024 that will render it inoperable — exposing itself to a class action lawsuit from customers demanding refunds.

If you’re unfamiliar with what the product is due to the vague nature in which it was marketed, Car Thing is basically a Bluetooth remote relay for the Spotify app running on your phone and the speakers in your automobile. It had voice-command capabilities, numerous mounting options, and was intended to be placed somewhere in the cabin. The unit was very obviously designed for people with older vehicles that lack modern touchscreens and connectivity features.

Minus some promotional offerings, the device originally retailed for $89.99 and required one to purchase a premium subscription from Spotify — which is currently $10.99 per month.

Unfortunately, the gadget has effectively become garbage and the company doesn’t even appear interested in trying to hide that fact. Spotify now recommends that users reset the device to its factory settings and dispose of it following their local electronic waste guidelines on the FAQ section of its website. While one could argue that this is the trajectory of all electronic devices, this is not an issue on older hardware that plays physical media. Assuming it’s been maintained, a record player from a century ago can still play records. The same is true of CD players, cassette decks, 8-track players, and VCRs. All devices using physical media will likewise work when the network is down or you're out of the coverage range.

But Spotify’s connected music device is just a few months away from being a paperweight. And quite soon after being launched, too. While there was a pilot version available to select customers in 2019, Car Thing wasn’t made broadly available to the public until February of 2022.

Later that same year, the company announced it would discontinue sales of Car Thing, presumably due to lackluster sales. Fortunately, it had promised to continue supporting it so that owners wouldn’t feel as if they had wasted the $90 the item cost in addition to their regular subscription.

However, in May of this year, the company announced that the device would no longer be functional by December 9th of 2024. While a subset of industrious customers could theoretically use the player as something else if Spotify bothered to release the source code, the odds of that happening are incredibly slim. Hackers have made some headway with the device. But purchasing one specifically to reverse engineer it into performing its original task seems like a lot of work for little payoff.

A lawsuit was launched in May of this year, with plaintiffs asserting they would never have purchased a Car Thing if they had been made aware that Spotify would discontinue support so soon after launch. Allegations have also been made that the company intentionally misled customers by hiding this information from them.

“All of the claims herein arise out of Spotify’s decision to unilaterally and without recourse cut off its support of the Car Thing and announce its plan to terminate its functionality on December 9, 2024,” reads the lawsuit.

By the start of June, Spotify said that it would begin offering refunds to customers under specific conditions. Car Things need to have been purchased new from the company and be accompanied by a receipt including the device’s serial number. Engadget reported that some users have claimed that some Spotify’s customer service agents had only offered several months of free Premium access. But other customers appear to have been reimbursed fully.

We suppose it’s good news that the company is trying to set things right. But offering recompense via a few months of free Spotify seems like the bare minimum and doesn’t really address concerns that the company may have misled its customers.

Meanwhile, this entire situation underscores just how troublesome connected services are for consumers. Spotify sold a physical product that was designed to help older vehicles gain some of the features seen on new models. But it swiftly abandoned the program at the expense of the very same people who supported it. This is something we’ve been seeing with all connected devices, be they pocket-sized gizmos or the very hardware that’s being installed into modern automobiles. Remember, if a company retains digital control of a product and can access it remotely, you don’t actually own it. You’re just in possession of the current version — which can be modified or abandoned at any time while you foot the bill.

[Images: Spotify]

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Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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4 of 42 comments
  • TheEndlessEnigma TheEndlessEnigma on Jun 06, 2024

    I'm confused. If this spotify device required a connection to your phone to work.....why did anyone need this spotify device? Ok, you have an older car. Run a aux cable from your phone to the aux plug in your car. If the car is even older, get an old style cassette adapter. Or and FM modulator plug in for your phone. This thing never made any sense.

    • See 1 previous
    • 1995 SC 1995 SC on Jun 06, 2024

      LG V60 baby...the last flagship with a headphone jack and expandable memory. I was a big LG fan. Aparantly there were like 6 of us. Not sure what I'll get next. I need to decide's last security patch was a year ago. Probably a mid priced Samsung...they have those features minus the good DACs LG had

  • Undead Zed Undead Zed on Jun 06, 2024

    As one of the folks who beta tested one, I can tell you that it's no great loss that these will be bricked. I'm not sure I ever even used mine for more than a few minutes after fiddling with it in the garage.

    They didn't actually hook up to your car stereo at all; it was just a tertiary screen for your phone, and your phone still needed to be hooked up to the car in some way. So you could just as well spend $10 on a phone mount and have a faster, more responsive device doing the same job with less wires and waiting for things to pair.

    What it SHOULD have been was a bluetooth tablet with an aux output that could automatically pair to your phone and play music when you started the car. That would've been a huge upgrade for people with older cars, especially keyless models.

    • 1995 SC 1995 SC on Jun 06, 2024

      I always thought the point was the knob giving you the tactile interface and making it easier while driving. They missed out not allowing navigation apps to use the hardware. Sounds like the interface wasn't good. All the more reason I wish they'd have just open sourced it

  • VoGhost Fantastic work by Honda design. When I first saw the pictures, I thought "Is that a second gen Acura NSX?"
  • V16 2025 VW GLI...or 2025 Honda Civic SI? Same target audience, similar price points. Both are rays of sun in the gray world of SUV'S.
  • FreedMike Said this before and I'll say it again: I'm not that exercised about this whole "pay for a subscription" thing, as long as the deal's reasonable. And here's how you make it reasonable: offer it a monthly charge. Let's say that adaptive headlights are a $500 option on this vehicle, and the subscription is $15 a month, or $540 over a three year lease. So you try the feature for a month, and if you like it, you keep it; if you don't, then you discontinue it, like a Netflix subscription. In any case, you didn't get charged $500 up front the feature. That's not a bad deal.In my case, let's say VW offers an over the air chip reflash that gives me another 25 hp. The total price of the upgrade is $1,000 (which is what a reflash would cost you in the aftermarket). If they offered me a one time monthly subscription for $50 to try it out, I'd take it. In other words, maybe the news isn't all bad.
  • 2ACL A good car, but - at least in this configuration -not one that should command a premium. Its qualities just aren't as enduring as those of Honda's contemporary sports cars. For better or worse, this is a formula they remain able to replicate.
  • Jalop1991 I just read that Tesla's profits are WAY down "as the electric vehicle company has faced both more EV competition from established automakers and a slowing of overall EV sales growth." This Cadillac wouldn't help Tesla at all, but the slowing market of EV sales overall means this should be a halo/boutique car. Regardless, yes, they should make it.