Now That’s Infotainment!
Automakers are learning to drive your smartphone.
America’s love of the automobile could be in danger of fading in favor of the infusion of technology people carry in their pockets. With the advent of the mobile Internet, young people find it more important to bring the world to them instead of driving somewhere to see reality unfold.
A survey released early this year by car-sharing network Zipcar, Inc. found, “Nearly two in three (65 percent) of Millennials (18-34-year-olds) say losing their phone (30 percent) or computer (35 percent) would have a greater negative impact on their daily routine than losing their car (28 percent).” Of course, if all those young people would rather stay home looking at a four-inch screen than actually going somewhere, you might expect traffic to be getting lighter, which it decidedly is not.
Answers to survey questions aside, Americans still spend considerable time in cars so they want their cars to do more. To meet these needs, automakers and electronics suppliers are hard at work getting your car to do all the things a smartphone can do, and still take you places.
The biggest boon to consumers is bringing down the price point of an immense array of entertainment and information technology. By letting the phone do all the heavy lifting, the computer in your pocket can supply full access to the internet with immense potential.
For automakers, the challenge is to bring about an interface that makes the connection easily, quickly and with as little distraction from driving as possible.
Some automakers are solving the problem by providing a more traditional automotive way of offering up the options. Chrysler’s latest Uconnect system has been acclaimed by many experts as among the easiest to use. It still retains such traditional elements as large, tactile buttons a driver can easily find and feel while looking out the windshield. “We want things to be comfortable and familiar,” says Chrysler spokesman Scott Brown. “There are two or three ways to do everything.”
With such a system, everything works similarly, whether you are looking for information about your car’s performance, maintenance or comfort settings, to the accessing the built-in Wi-Fi hotspot or your phone’s musical offerings.
There is a choice here of voice command, touch screen or real buttons. “It’s got to be comfortable to use,” says Brown, “and not just for the kids.”
Other brands are going towards the direction of turning the interface into a smartphone, something that may be comfortable to the youngest set of drivers, but off-putting to more mature car buyers. Cadillac’s Cue system is touted as being the same type of interface as a smartphone or tablet, including the swipe-and-spread finger movements to access screens. For many, even those very comfortable with an iPad, that may be next to impossible to do without spending long moments staring at the screen instead of the road ahead.
In an effort to keep the driver’s hands on the steering wheel, automakers are improving voice command systems. Honda recently announced it will be bringing access to Apple’s Siri system to the steering wheel. Once you connect your iPhone, a button on the wheel lets you talk to your phone through the car. “It takes the phone out of your hand,” says Honda spokesman Chris Martin.
Some automotive and phone brands work better together. Several automakers are geared more toward the iPhone and Apple brand. Others make a great effort to mate with Android devices. For now, at least, Blackberry and Window phones are getting little attention in the automotive world.
One of the difficulties is getting the wide array of media sources into a manageable format. Solving at least some of the dilemma of bringing together all the variations of phone-based entertainment is Aha Radio, a division of Harman. Aha is “an aggregator of internet content,” says Robert Myers, director of automotive accounts. Aha is currently available within the infotainment systems of ten automotive brands covering half of new car sales, including Ford, Chrysler and Honda. It’s a free downloadable app on either iPhone or Android phones that can be accessed through the phone or directly from the automotive interface on properly equipped vehicles.
Aha allows you to choose among tens of thousands of internet resources and set your favorites as presets buttons. Thus the screen on your car could show Yelp, Facebook, Pandora or that eclectic radio station from another continent. You can sit with your smartphone at home and set up the content the way you want it presented in your car.
Myers notes, “Aha’s ultimate goal is really to provide the Internet into the car in a safe manner.” Using the smartphone’s GPS, content can also be location based, easily searching for the nearest coffee shop or Italian restaurant. It will read the Yelp reviews aloud while you drive.
Your content is arranged by account. This essentially lets you have the same interface and choices when moving from car to car. It also means different driver’s have personalized settings automatically by bring in either their own phone or logging into a different account.
For automakers it’s a matter of whether or not to integrate or separate entertainment and information. Some drivers want to know only the basics, like speed and fuel level. Others want to keep detailed track of time, distance, oil temperature and everything possible about the vehicle’s condition and performance. Collision avoidance measures are gradually being integrated into this increasingly unwieldy collection of data.
We’re heading towards systems where you can download your phone’s entertainment into your car and your car’s information log onto your phone. It’s a combination of engineering and art form to provide all of this knowledge while still allowing most drivers to move along the highway without disruption.
As we move towards a future of increased entertainment choices in the car, you will still be able to compare and contrast each brand’s way to bring it to you in the most satisfying way. Android or iPhone, Chevy versus Ford. The choices will keep growing.