It's probably telling that Ford CEO Alan Mulally is delivering the opening keynote speech at next week's Consumer Electronics Show. The automaker is beefing up the in-car entertainment experience, and Mulally will have the ears of industry tastemakers in nine days as he dreams out loud.
Ford announced yesterday that it will be the first car manufacturer to offer HD radio technology with iTunes Tagging next year. In other words, folks will be able to push a button on the in-dash receiver to remember songs. The next time the owner plugs in an iPod or iPhone, those songs can be purchased through Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL ) digital storefront.
This may not seem like much of a threat to Sirius XM, at first. HD Radio has been around for years without making much of a dent in satellite radio's success. However, the ability to improve on the sound of analog radio -- while offering deeper genre dives with fewer commercials through multicasting -- does improve the profile of terrestrial dinosaurs that many of us have left for dead.
However, perhaps the most nail-biting aspect of Ford's beefing up its dashboard options is that it's turning this into more than just a battle between satellite and conventional radio options.
"In 2010, Ford vehicles will offer familiar terrestrial radio, HD Radio technology, Sirius Satellite Radio as well as Internet radio through Ford SYNC from a Bluetooth-streaming audio-capable smartphone," reads the release.
The unlikely pairing of Ford and Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) to introduce SYNC is already more than two years old. Sirius XM is more popular today than it was when SYNC began rolling out in 2008 model cars, so savvy music-munching hard drives haven't been fatal.
However, what has also grown in that time is the smartphone market, as Apple, Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM ) , and Palm (Nasdaq: PALM ) revolutionize the capabilities of what a wireless handset can do.
The potent argument in satellite radio's defense has been that Sirius XM can offer automakers recurring financial incentives that an iPod input jack cannot. However, now that Ford is taking a page out of Apple's playbook by opening up Sync apps to the developer community, it will be making a push to market lucrative in-car 3G Wi-Fi connectivity options next year.
This does not mean that Sirius XM is toast. It has come too far -- and accomplished so much -- to falter at the first glimpse of disruptive in-car technology. However, it will soon have to address Internet streams and HD Radio as roadway competitors. It's no longer sparring exclusively with FM and AM radio.
See you at Thunderdome, road warriors.
What do you see as the biggest threat for Sirius XM? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.