Drive on any alley, street or even major highway and you’ll see drivers glancing at their phones. Not all the time, not a constant gaze, but a hurried glimpse while stopped at a light, a twist of the head for a quick look at the screen on the highway, and that causal downward glance which is undoubtedly directed at a phone. This is what we do, us addicted smartphone users. We need to know every message, every text, every email as soon as it comes in. And while we’re at it, let’s see if my post got a response, my tweet got a reply or my status got liked. We’re addicted.
A few months ago I wrote about Navdy, the “head-up” display that interacts with voice commands and “projects” visual elements in front of you to keep your eyes on the road. It looks like it will be the ideal solution. But, like I said, it isn’t available yet and we need a solution.
Enter the in-car manufacturer driven solutions built on entertainment systems and using their screens. Current models have radio and music options and some phone integration, usually for making and receiving calls (if you’ve ever seen me yelling at my dashboard when driving, it’s because I’m trying to get my car’s voice recognition system to make a call.) I have seen the BMW ads for systems that read aloud email I have yet to see them “live.” There are also proprietary navigation apps and systems like OnStar for on-demand services and assistance. Messaging? Not so much.
So it makes sense that the major smartphone operating systems, Apple and Android, should tackle this problem, and they have. Apple has created CarPlay and Android has created Android Auto. Both look like the best possible implementation for an in-car system that reduces distracted driving but only if owners match their phone OS to their car’s.
That said, the Verge reviewed Android Auto at the LA Auto show today and found out the current, sad truth: adoption of Android’s car software (and probably Apple’s, for that matter) is tricky. Car manufacturers want to retain control of the features they have already implemented. Also, for functionality that exists in the cars own system but that aren’t supported by either Android or Apple, what are car owners to do? Flip between phone and non-phone use? Just as an example, radio and music control have become very well designed in modern car entertainment systems, with control buttons in the driving wheel, that are incredibly easy (and safe!) to use.
The Verge sums up this dilemma quite well: “it only takes a few minutes of using Android Auto to understand that it has solved in-car navigation and entertainment in a way that car companies never have, and possibly never will on their own.” It also makes sense to mention that updating a car happens once in a few years while operating a phone’s operating system or, even faster, an app, happens every few months at the most. Car development times are years, technology that is included in today’s car was developed at least 4-5 years ago. Phone software lead times are a few months and can be updated whenever necessary. Phone apps will always be more up-to-date than the latest car technology.
Another drawback: I’m not sure, based on the articles I’ve read, that cars will support both Apple and Android at the same time. Does that mean that drivers need to remain committed to a specific phone operating system for the life of a car? What if that system goes out of business? What if they simply want to change? What if they sell the car? What if a passenger with a phone with a system differing from the car’s, can they play their music? Can they navigate?
Finally, what’s a post without a product suggestion? I am in love with the simplicity and ease of use of my Google Chromecast. I can plug it into any TV (with an HDMI connection) and stream video from any Android device. Apps that have adopted Chromecast allow me to use my phone to pick out what I want to see (from live sports to movies to TV shows) and watch them on my TV. I have used my Chromecast with three different TVs (from three different manufacturers) and at least 10 different devices, from phones to tablets and laptops. How great would a similar dongle, USB-based as most cars seem to already include those, that could take over the car’s entertainment system, both audio and the screen, with that support written into apps, just like Chromecast support is today?