Start Engine, Insert Flash Card, and Crank It Up

Honda, Infiniti and VW are offering Compact Flash and USB ports on some 2007 models, allowing you to enjoy your digital music collection without a stand-alone MP3 player. Just transfer a gig of music files from your PC to a Compact Flash card, insert into dashboard, and you’re ready to rock.

Debuting at the same time as MP3-playing phones like the Verizon Chocolate, these new MP3-enabled cars challenge the iPod business model. What if the ability to play MP3’s becomes a commodity feature included in a wide variety of devices, rendering the stand-alone MP3 player unnecessary?

Infiniti’s 2007 G35 has the most turbocharged digital media setup, allowing you to store MP3’s on the Navigation System’s hard drive. Called the “Music Box,” this feature lets you rip MP3’s from the dashboard CD player, or transfer files from a Compact Flash card to the car’s 9.5 GB hard drive.

When equipped with navigation, the 2007 Honda CR-V has a Compact Flash port in the dash, but doesn’t have the on-board hard drive. Certain new VW models offered in Germany have a USB port in the center armrest. (Hopefully this option will be available in the US soon.)

Of course, Apple’s ace in the hole has always been the iTunes software, an elegant way to move songs and playlists from computer to the iPod. It might take some fussing to get an MP3-enabled car stereo to play songs from a Flash Card in the order you want to hear them. The bigger the collection, the bigger the hassle factor.

Perhaps Apple will usher in a new round of digital audio innovation at the MacWorld expo next week. Stay tuned…

Greg Spotts is Creative Director of the Shortlist Music Prize, and rocks the Digital Media beat for Fast Company.