Installing Android on Spotify's Car Thing: Is It Really Possible?

Car Thing can't run Android 10 photos
Photo: Bogdan Popa/autoevolution/Spotify
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It's not uncommon to see software companies trying to expand into the hardware space. Several big names attempted the migration, but few managed to turn this move into a successful business plan.
Microsoft is probably the best example. Often referred to as the world's largest software company, Microsoft's foray into the hardware space included devices like Zune, Lumia phones (albeit the mobile strategy was based on the takeover of Nokia's devices and services unit), and Surface tablets.

Not all devices survived. Lumia phones were eventually abandoned, and the Surface RT became a flop as big as Windows Vista. Microsoft insisted on hardware, and now the Surface lineup is a key money-making machine that highlights the best the company offers in the operating system and productivity software worlds.

In 2022, Spotify attempted a similar expansion. It launched Car Thing, an odd device that provided drivers with a more convenient way of accessing their favorite tunes on Spotify. Many considered Car Thing a rival to Android Auto and CarPlay, and at some level, it could be positioned as a somewhat limited alternative to the more widely adopted phone mirroring platforms.

Spotify Car Thing
Photo: Spotify
Spotify was mainly aimed at people whose cars did not come fitted with Android Auto and Play and whose owners didn't want to spend more on aftermarket upgrades.

However, Spotify's adventure in the hardware space ended abruptly. The company decided to discontinue the device, and earlier this year, it released an announcement that wasn't received well by customers who paid big bucks for Car Thing. Starting in December, the device would be useless as Spotify disables all units.

Not everybody liked the announcement, and customers started searching for alternatives. Many contacted Spotify to request refunds, while others wanted to keep the device alive by searching for alternative projects. One of the most common ideas was installing Android on the device.

Spotify Car Thing
Photo: Spotify
The skilled developers in the Android community already looked into this idea, and unfortunately, the first attempts don't look good. It all comes down to the thing that Spotify has no idea what it is: hardware.

It turns out there's a good reason why Spotify always limited Car Thing to running only its music app. The device is so underpowered that it can't handle more tasks. It comes with only 512MB and 4GB of storage, and the first thing that most of you will probably think of is also the most obvious.

Car Thinng does not meet the minimum system requirements to run Android, as Google wants a device to have at least 2GB of RAM to play nice with its operating system.

There are ways to bypass these limitations, such as installing more lightweight Android forks, but Spotify still wouldn't be able to run any demanding tasks.

Spotify Car Thing
Photo: Spotify
Developer @MarcelD505 tried to load the Spotify Web Player on Car Thing, which would basically allow the device to service the purpose it was built for even after the December end of support. Unfortunately, even the web player is too demanding for the device, so once he loaded the app, Car Thing almost instantly froze.

Spotify used a very limited Amlogic processor, so every task took seconds to load—seconds that a driver couldn't afford. Therefore, it's insane to believe that Car Thing could still be used inside a vehicle with third-party software.

If anything, Car Thing can become the kind of device serving a basic task that doesn't involve many resources, such as a digital photo frame. However, it all depends on the data you throw at it, as 512MB of RAM could be too demanding for loading large 4K images.

All these efforts prove one obvious thing: Spotify was dead serious when it told customers to look for safe disposal methods. Car Thing is a flop by all means, and while users want to keep it around for a little longer, not even fully open-sourced software would save it.

Spotify Car Thing
Photo: Spotify
People who spent nearly $100 on a device almost dead on arrival have limited options, but the most obvious is contacting the company for a refund. Spotify didn't even agree with this approach, but many customers threatened with legal action, so its strategy changed almost overnight. Some people said they were offered one year of Spotify Premium, so you must contact the company to discuss your options.

One thing is certain: once the December deadline is reached, Car Thing will be as useful as a rock. The device proves that expanding from software to hardware is harder than what companies think, especially when they attempt to do this on their own. Spotify's failed experiment could also affect its streaming platform, as many customers are disappointed with the way the company handled the demise of Car Thing, looking for alternatives once their subscription ends. Google, Apple, and other competing companies have every reason in the world to be happy about Spotify's blunder.
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About the author: Bogdan Popa
Bogdan Popa profile photo

Bogdan keeps an eye on how technology is taking over the car world. His long-term goals are buying an 18-wheeler because he needs more space for his kid’s toys, and convincing Google and Apple that Android Auto and CarPlay deserve at least as much attention as their phones.
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