AppRadio: Is It a Radio or an App?

Pioneer AppRadio 4

Pioneer, Inc

AppRadio is Pioneer’s name for an application that allows you to control your smartphone with one of their head units. The name can also refer to the actual head units that have this ability. The technology was introduced in 2011, and it has gone through a handful of iterations (AppRadio 2, AppRadio 3). Although the original product line was only compatible with iOS devices, newer versions of the hardware and software are also compatible with Android handsets.

Radio or App?

So, AppRadio is a head unit, but it’s also an app, and it somehow interfaces with your phone? If you’re confused, it is a little convoluted to refer to both a product and an optional portion of that product by the same name, but it really isn’t that complicated if you break it down.

At the core of each Pioneer AppRadio is a touchscreen head unit with infotainment leanings. It’s really as simple as that. These head units all fit into the double DIN form factor, and they lack any physical controls—all of the available real estate is taken up by a large touchscreen. If your vehicle has a double DIN head unit (or a single DIN/1.5 DIN head unit in a double DIN slot), then you can drop in one of Pioneer’s AppRadio units, and it will work right out of the box.

Of course, the main selling point of AppRadio is that it can run apps, and that’s how you unlock advanced functionality that goes beyond listening to the radio and CDs (or watching DVDs). And at the core of the app lineup is the eponymous AppRadio, which is a free add-on that allows you to hook up a smartphone via Bluetooth, USB, or Lightning cable, depending on the specific head unit model and the type of phone you have.

In addition to the AppRadio application, these head units can also run a variety of other infotainment-style apps. Some apps require an additional purchase (i.e. the best GPS navigation apps), and others are free.

How Does the AppRadio App Work?

The main idea behind AppRadio is that it allows you to control a smartphone via your head unit, and that’s where the eponymous app comes into play. Depending on the model of the head unit, and the type of smartphone, you may be able to connect wirelessly via Bluetooth pairing, or with a physical (USB or Lightning) cable. The level of integration will also depend on the model of the head unit and the type of phone you have, but the general rule of thumb is that any iPhone 4 or 4S will work with any AppRadio unit.

The issue of compatibility is a little more complicated when it comes to iPhone 5 and Android handsets. For instance, the first generation of AppRadio head units will not work with iPhone 5 or Android at all. Second and third generation units do work with iPhone 5, and Pioneer maintains a list of compatible Android handsets.

What’s the Point of AppRadio?

AppRadio is simply one more way to access the various features of your cell phone in a handsfree manner. It provides the same access to the music on your phone that you can get from an auxiliary cable or an FM transmitter, but it also allows you to actually select songs and control playback from the head unit’s touchscreen in a manner reminiscent of direct iPod control.

In addition to music playback, AppRadio also provides on-screen access to other information from your phone, like your address book. You can also use AppRadio to place and receive calls, which is a feature that a lot of OEM infotainment systems provide. The main difference, of course, is the user interface, since AppRadio’s minimalist design cribs heavily from iOS.

Beyond AppRadio

When the AppRadio application was first introduced, it was only available for head units in the AppRadio line. However, several of Pioneer’s current product lines are now capable of running apps. Starting in 2013, their entire line of AppRadio, NEX, Navigation, and DVD head units are capable of connecting to smartphones via AppRadio.

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