Dakota Richline
“Every one of us is, in the cosmic perspective, precious. If a human disagrees with you, let him live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another.”
― Carl Sagan, Cosmos

Occam's Razor and Future-Proof Audio Playback

CD, USB drive, and iPhone

One format to rule them all… [1]

Why Audio Storage Matters

I usually use my car’s fancy touchscreen stereo to listen to podcasts on long drives. For such a simple concept (playing an audio file), Apple’s Podcast app is terrible. Minor snags like needing to manually select episodes aren’t a huge deal, but its handling of Bluetooth playback is unacceptable. There’s no way to prevent a podcast from playing; the iPhone usually pairs and suddenly plays the podcast as I start driving. Even though physical media may autoplay, I have no issue with removing it because it guarantees that it will not play.

The Joy of USB

Even though it’s early ’00s technology, I was amazed the first time I played audio in my car from a USB drive. The UX was identical to playing something like a tape or CD, but I can change the particular files stored on the drive on a whim. That magical moment combined the convenience and content availability of streaming from my iPhone, with the simplicity of an old-school CD album.

Another Example: No Aux in the Mercedes

Mercedes dashboard

Dashboard of a slightly newer Mercedes CLK [2]

As well-designed as many parts of the car were, my 2001 Mercedes’s stereo was peak anti-Occam’s Razor. It was at least a $40K car new and, naturally, the stereo had all the bells and whistles: a 6 CD changer in the trunk, built-in carphone, and a motorized door to cover the tape deck. The problem is that there was no way to stream audio from a phone without an FM transmitter or burning my own CDs. Of course, using an FM transmitter meant that the illuminated ashtray needed to be on for 12 V power. The tape deck couldn’t fit an adapter because of its fancy door, and Mercedes didn’t include a standard 3.5 mm jack.

Moral of the Story: Future Proof via Simplicity

Neither of these dilemmas would have occurred if Apple and Mercedes used the easy, standards-compliant solutions like the 3.5 mm jack. The Mercedes stereo would have aged well for two decades had there been the ability to simply plug it into an analog output, like a (pre-2016) iPhone! In a world of wireless audio and shoddy streaming apps, playing audio over USB is the low-tech solution that reminds us how it should work.


[1] All three images are public domain

[2] “Mercedes Benz CLK 200 Kompressor” by TheCarSpy is licensed with CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Last modified: 10/15/2021