By on November 15, 2013

angrybirds

Saturday morning, I’m at Ki’s with the fellow who hired me at my day job a couple of years ago. He’s in his early fifties, considerably taller and wider than I am, cheerful in his aggressive tan and studiously thrown-together beach-bum ensemble, yet menacing enough that when he veers in the direction of a particular table on the sunporch the other two groups of people who are also heading for the table magically decide to just stand and wait for the next one instead. We don’t work together any more; he hired me to turn an idea of his into aluminum-and-silicon reality then he departed for the next idea. The future is as real to him as the present; perhaps more so. He earns between three and four hundred dollars an hour as a consultant, imagining what technology might be able to do for medicine in the future.

“You do this car thing,” he barks. “Something I’ve wondered. Bought that Rubicon outside. They wanted two thousand dollars for navigation. Now that’s a (bleep)ing waste of money. Utterly insane. Why not offer full Bluetooth integration into what my phone already does, extend the screen and the touch facility to a dash display. Cost two hundred bucks if you talk to —” And he rattles off the names of a couple of Taiwanese OEMs who could, no doubt, handle it. “Why isn’t that happening?”

“Yeah,” I agree, “that’s crazy alright.”

“I,” he growls in response, leaning back in his chair and fixing me with his eye, “was asking you a question, actually.”

Like many of TTAC’s readers, I have a little bit of a tech background. In my case, the background includes having worked with the Free Software Foundation, where Richard Stallman once commanded me over dinner near the MIT AI Lab building to write a free competitor to the O’Reilly Camel Book. (I regret that I never got around to doing so, having shortly afterwards found myself with the chance to launch yet another business.) I’ve created a variety of applications ranging from the less-than-successful “Worm Race II” for the Apple ][+ with color adapter (an early effort, done in BASIC at the age of ten) to a Perl/Tcl/Tk-based point-of-sale terminal for a Wal-Mart partner (worked better than it probably should have, paid for my YZF600R and a bunch of BMX trips.) I’m intimately familiar with the process by which commercial software is currently created, and I’ve participated in both the reviled “waterfall” and even-more-reviled “Agile” processes.

As a consequence of my experience as a programmer and sysadmin, combined with my unrelenting automotive obsession, I’ve long had a fascination with in-car computing. I remember being quite indignant when the original E60 BMW iDrive turned out to be based on the late and unlamented Windows CE platform. “If they’d bother to do something with Linux and ARM,” I said, quite condescendingly, “it wouldn’t suck like it does.” Well, they did, and it still does. Oh, well. My crystal ball has always been cloudy, even if I did tell my father to buy AAPL at $20.50 a share and to take a short position in RHAT at $45.

The unfortunate truth is that the automobile has always been a poor fit with “modern” technology, whether it was the early in-car phonograph players or this abomination:

timeport

Anybody recognize that? Don’t say “It’s a silver Motorola StarTAC”, even though it basically is. It’s the Motorola Timeport, a two-thousand-dollar option for the W220 Mercedes S-Class that was “fully integrated” into the horrible COMAND system of the day. There were perhaps three months in human history when the Timeport was as good as the equivalent black StarTAC. During those three months, the black StarTAC cost three hundred bucks, which is to say it cost one-seventh of what the Timeport cost. For the next couple years, the Timeport didn’t change, but the StarTAC and its successors did. By the time Mercedes discontinued the option, it would have been an active embarrassment for any Mercedes owner to be seen with a phone like that.

Still, if you owned a W220 the Timeport remained the only way to get factory hands-free calling. If your Timeport broke, you had to go to the Benz dealer and pay $1100 for a replacement. Eventually, Motorola refused to supply any more Timeports to the M-B parts operation, which made the ones in stock even more expensive. Needless to say, the whole thing was a disaster of the first order for everyone involved. The reason was simple: even though the W220 was perhaps the worst piece of garbage to wear the three-pointed star since Karl Benz’s Patent-Motorwagen annoyed the horses, most of them still had a service life approximately ten times that of the average cellular phone.

We all intrinsically recognize that some goods are “durable” and some are not. If your grandfather got a Colt Single Action Army pistol in his youth from his grandfather, chances are it either still works or can be easily repaired to function exactly as it did in 1901. His underwear, on the other hand, is probably best handled with the robots they’re using to clean up Fukushima. Automobiles are considerably more durable than most consumer-technology devices, and they have resale value which can be adversely affected by things like cassette players built into an oval dashboard panel — hello, ’96 Taurus — or the inability to “see” SD cards larger than 2GB — yes, 2008 Audi TT, that would be you! The tech world moves much faster than the car world. If you want a stark reminder of that, consider the fact that the Bentley Continental GT of about three years ago had a lower-resolution display and less processing power than does the new Samsung GalaxyGear watch.

The smarter OEMs are wising up to the fact that they can’t keep pace with what’s happening outside the car and they’re adjusting their strategy to suit. The much-reviled myFordTouch was designed from the beginning to be easily updated with new functionality. Tesla’s simply providing Model S customers with one big touchscreen which gives them the ability to change the interface as they see fit in the future. Yet both of those approaches are also flawed, because they still rely on the car to provide the computing power behind the user experience. That means that in five years you’ll probably be able to buy a prepaid phone at WalMart for $49.99 that outpaces the processors in the $60,000-plus Tesla Model S.

It stands to reason, therefore, that the most advanced approach would be to turn the car into an interface. Give it the ability to connect with a multitude of devices on their terms, let the buyers bring what they prefer. Put the biggest touchscreen money can buy into the thing and publish the API. (The API is the set of commands and routines that programmers can use to connect with another program or device.) Imagine sitting down in the newest BMW and having the center stack be an extension of your iPhone or Android phone. When you upgrade Android, the interface also “upgrades”. When your new phone is faster than the old one, the interface in your car will also be faster.

The raw cost of a ruggedized, heat-and-cold-ready touchscreen with an Atom processor, built into a car, is well under three hundred dollars. If you’re willing to subsume the HVAC and other center stack controls into the thing — a course of action which I cannot recommend — it pays for itself in lowered cost elsewhere. You make it available to Apple and Android devices, secure in the knowledge that any competitor which appears in the next ten years will need to “play nice” with one or both of the existing standards. If a driver without a phone gets into the car, he won’t have access to music, entertainment, navigation, or certain other functions —- but in 2013, who the hell has a car but not a phone? If you’re feeling generous, you can throw in a 1/8″ input jack as well so low-cost devices all the way to the Sony FM Walkman will also work.

All of a sudden, many of your problems as a car manufacturer are a thing of the past. Your sound system becomes as advanced as the phone in the user’s pocket. Instead of having your nav system compared unfavorably to Waze or Google Maps, you can simply integrate them and take the best of everything. Your competitors might offer solid infotainment systems, but your product has exactly what each individual customer wants and has already selected. You can still make money by offering multiple levels of speaker and amplifier technology at ever-escalating prices. Your cars will be easier to insure because the thing that everybody really wants to steal has left the car in the owner’s pocket. Ten years from now, the interiors of your old models will still have the center-stack look and feel of the newest phones and operating systems. It’s such a brilliant idea I have no idea why it’s not being done in everything costing more than a Nissan Note.

Well, that’s not exactly true. I do know why it isn’t being done. It isn’t because the automakers are unable to integrate with a Bluetooth device; just look at the Lexus Enform system or myFordTouch’s ability to navigate using your phone in newer versions. It isn’t because Bluetooth isn’t high-bandwidth to handle the required traffic across the wireless bus; hell, a GoPro can use Bluetooth to convey HD-level motion images. It’s because everybody who is in the business of looking into the future sees a greater need for non-integrated electronics in the cars. The reason is simple: as Sean Connery said in The Untouchables, you’re muckin’ with the G here, pal. It’s now taken for granted at the highest levels of this business that the United States Government will heavily regulate cell-phone mobile usage in the near-to-immediate future, up to and including a requirement that phones shut down when their GPS experiences velocities above that of shank’s mare. The minute that happens, all the sexy, high-value, high-feature integration becomes useless and the customer’s left staring at a blank screen. At that point, it’s 1988 all over again, the fully integrated OEMs are Cadillac and the non-integrated ones are Lincoln, if you know what I mean, and you might not, so I’ll explain. When the price of gas stopped skyrocketing and people wanted to stop driving transverse FWD shitboxes, Lincoln found itself in the enviable position of not having been able to get around to making the Town Car a transverse FWD shitbox. Sometimes it pays to stay behind the curve.

For that reason, everybody’s hedging their bets, producing systems that rely as much as possible on user-provided processing power while still retaining expensive built-in functionality just in case Mrs. Obama wakes up tomorrow with a desire to crusade against distracted driving. In the current legislative climate, the OEMs are like Czechoslovakian shopkeepers in the spring of 1968. They might be permitted to continue integrating with the phone — or the Red Army might sweep in and make it illegal to do anything in a car besides face directly forward with both hands on the wheel and both eyes on the bumper of the eighteen-wheeler stopped in traffic ahead of you.

That was the explanation I gave my friend as we watched the surfers paddle into the five-foot waves outside Ki’s. He thought about it for a minute, then he chuckled. For him, and for others like him, the future feels inevitable. “The Internet,” I once read, “interprets censorship and regulation as damage and routes around it accordingly.” In the California morning, with the Teslas whirring by and the poor people tucked safely out of sight in Compton or Iowa, it seems impossible to hold any other belief. But then I pulled out onto Torrey Pines Boulevard and realized I was reflexively holding my phone below the beltline to prevent any stray police from seeing me and writing me a ticket. Progress is inevitable, unless the man with the badge and the gun says it isn’t.

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127 Comments on “Avoidable Contact: Who’s afraid of a little integration?...”


  • avatar
    morbo

    Critical flaw in your rant there Jack. For the gubmint to ban cell phone usage based on device velocity, they would have to overcome the combined lobbying efforts of Verizon, ATT, Apple, Google, Sprint, TMobile, Samsung, Cisco, and other assorted multi-hundred billionaire companies in the business of selling data, data access, and data access hardware.

    Ain’t gonna happen.

    • 0 avatar
      mcarr

      You’re right, the government would NEVER take over an entire industry to suit it’s purposes. cough..healthcare

      • 0 avatar
        Charlie84

        Are you referring to the government takeover of healthcare in which all of the private insurers were kept in place and were delivered millions of new customers? That takeover?

      • 0 avatar
        Jan Bayus

        I wish they would have down the thing you feared. It would be cheaper and better.

        • 0 avatar
          SIGCDR

          If you mean single payer then we already have that for disabled veterans and active and retired military. I have 60 years experience with military medicine and it is broke. My son is a uniformed ER doctor in DoD and he can’t wait to escape the drones running military medicine. If the government had four years to build a web site and couldn’t make it work; if they have spent billions to make an integrated medical record that could be shared between individual branches of the service and the VA and have given up even though mandated by Congress, what makes you think the government can run something as complicated and critical as national healthcare. They can’t even keep illegal aliens from crossing a 700 mile border and adding to the patient load. Socialized medicine hasn’t worked anywhere with Great Britain being the best example of abject failure and where concierge private healthcare is still available to the elites. Keep drinking the Nanny State kool-aid but leave the rest of us alone.

          • 0 avatar
            ect

            Single payer does not mean government-delivered health care. In Toronto, I go to a private sector doctor, who is part of a private sector medical practice located in a private sector building. Everything they use comes from private sector suppliers. When I ger sent for a test, I go to a private sector lab. The only thing the government does is collect taxes and pay the fees of the service providers.

            Reality is that, for health care, the US spends roughly $1.75-$2.00 per capita for every $1 that other developed countries spend, but health care outcomes in the US are poorer than in other developed countries. Americans spend a lot more for health care, but get a lot less – largely due to the fragmentation of the US system.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            I am compelled to jump in here based on MY personal experience with Private Health Insurance, Medicare, TriCare for Life and the VA Healthcare system. My wife and I are 67 years of age.

            Not all doctors and hospitals in the US accept Medicare, TriCare for Life or the VAHCS reimbursement.

            If you want the best healthcare available in the US it is imperative to get Private Healthcare insurance from companies readily accepted by all providers, such as BlueCross/Blue Shield, etc.

            That’s first-rate healthcare coverage! Everything else, Medicare/TriCare/VA is second-rate healthcare and YOU will be required to sign an Advanced Beneficiary Notice (ABN) advising you that you will be billed for the difference if you want the treatment.

            We had BCBS in addition to Medicare and TriCare for life, as well as the VAHCS for me, the Vet.

            When our rates with BCBS went up from $489 to $602 a month because of the ACA mandates for pre-natal care, birth control, Mental health coverage, etc, we had to drop BCBS. We could not afford that much each month.

            With cancer and cardio vascular disease in my family, BCBS provided first-rate coverage and treatment, for decades. With Medicare/TriCare we have to find new doctors and hospitals that will accept them.

            The best doctors, specialists and hospitals do not accept Medicare/TriCare for life.

            First-rate health insurance is an existential issue if you have a life-threatening condition.

          • 0 avatar
            SIGCDR

            “Single payer does not mean government-delivered health care.”

            No but it does mean government directed, regulated, and most importantly rationed health care. As for the most common measures used by single payer advocates to say 36 of the world’s countries and healthcare systems produce longer life expectancy and lower infant mortality the statistics are badly flawed by not accounting for the heterogeneous racial demographics, socioeconomic, cultural norms of certain ethnic groups predisposed to drugs, drinking, poor diets, hypertension, obesity, teen pregnancy, and violence.

            Finally if the Fabian Utopia that is Canada is so great why does its healthcare system fall so far behind in actual measurable outputs vis a vis the US? The statistics are too hard to ignore for rational observers. Single payer or government delivered systems are failing worldwide. Socialism, price controls, rationing are all one in the same and none of them lift all mankind to prosperity but instead sink all but the elites into a mire of misery. I offer the following proof of my assertion.

            The British Journal of Cancer looked at survival from cancer around the world by country. On every chart, for every cancer examined, the best outcome, the best survival, was in America. And the
            differences were not trivial. For example, if one considers cancers that affect men, and lumps all cancers into a pool of outcomes, the chance of surviving five years after diagnosis in America was 66%, but in Europe it was 47%, and in Britain, nicknamed the“sick man of Europe,” 45%. Canada fared a little better at 53%, which may reflect the ability of some Canadians to jump the border to America for treatment. For breast cancer, five-year survival was 90.5% in America, and 78.5% in Britain. Similarly, survival after heart attack or stroke is better in the U.S. than in Britain or Canada, with their universal healthcare care. So, in answer to “Who you gonna call?” when you get sick, the answer is“us.”
            – Government Medicine is Bad for Your Health, Lee D. Hieb, M.D., Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons Volume 16 Number 4 Winter 2011

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            SIGCDR, my brother-in-law holds dual-citizenship status in that he is an American-born Canadian.

            He and my sister live primarily in Vancouver, BC, but she, an American by birth, also has a house in Poulsbo, WA.

            Ironically, he gets his medical care in the US being covered under my sister’s healthcare policy because he can be seen by their doctor in Seattle any time he wants to, without having to wait a day or a week, or a month or whatever.

      • 0 avatar
        VenomV12

        I grew up in and spent half my life in a country where the government was in charge of health care and oh my God, everyone was taken care of and no one went bankrupt from medical bills. Oh, the horror.

        • 0 avatar
          Kenmore

          I sincerely doubt that your country of birth has anything like the demographic challenges of the United States.

          I used to be incensed but am now merely bored by those who would hold up racially and culturally homogenous little enclaves of socialism as supposed lessons to a nation that must cope with violent and overly fecund underclasses whose growth and political power has for half a century been actively… nay, passionately propelled by some of its own elite enclaves.

          You’re a gnat lecturing an elephant.

          • 0 avatar
            ect

            Oh, please. All developed countries maintain a significant underclass. Those in the UK, France, the Netherlands and Germany, among others, are every bit as proportionately large as in the US. The ethnic composition may differ, but the numbers are every bit as significant.

            The reality is that US health care is ferociously expensive, yet delivers inferior results. As a businessman, if I joined a company to discover that one of our key raw materials (inputs), accounting for nearly 1/5 of sales, cost twice as much as what our competitors use, but doesn’t work as well, we’d declare a crisis and urgently figure out (a) how to bring our costs/results into line, and then (b) how to leapfrog the competition.

            The data is public:
            http://www.commonwealthfund.org/Publications/In-the-Literature/2013/Nov/Access-Affordability-and-Insurance.aspx

            What happens in the US is that powerful special interests (AMA, big pharma, etc.) sing the song that the US system is somehow superior, and buy Congressional votes to echo that.

            That doesn’t change reality – the US spends about $2 per capita for every $1 that other developed countries, and gets inferior results. In the global economy, that creates a huge economic disadvantage for US businesses, and a lot of unnecessary misery for Americans who don’t have access to quality health care.

      • 0 avatar
        fastwagon

        So maybe the carmakers should get out of the communications and integration business and go back to the 80s dashboards with a few slight modifications: a blank spot on the dash for the driver to place his own tablet, a connection to the amplifier and speakers, and a battery-charging connection. Perhaps it’s time to start a trend along these lines, with velcro attachments and so on, that render the car’s integrated systems superfluous, except for the connection to speakers and charging. That would dissuade lots of buyers from taking delivery on the integrated systems, making them less common and less a feasible target of government regulation.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      There’s a separate issue there, too. Why should all cell phones in a car be disabled simply because ONE person is driving? It quickly becomes an issue when your wife or kidlets aren’t allowed to do the things THEY want to do while you’re driving.

      • 0 avatar
        Carzzi

        Gov’t wants to disable all mobile devices in cars — driver’s device or passengers’ — because they want to make travel in a personal automobile as pleasure-free as possible. After all, the wet dream of every socialist/ collectivist/ statist is to put the populace in trains, like they did with grisly success after the first third of the last century.

    • 0 avatar
      fastwagon

      So maybe the carmakers should get out of the communications and integration business altogether, go back to the 80s systems with a few slight modifications: a blank spot on the dash for the driver to install his own tablet, a connection to the amplifier and speakers, and a battery-charging connection.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    I have a close friend who is an intellectual property attorney at an automaker specializing in software and in-vehicle media applications. He explained to me the major hurtles to moving forward with in-car connectivity technology lies with IP infringements and regulatory hurtles, especially with the FCC.

    I’m on the other end of the biz, so I can’t provide specific examples, but mostly it’s an army of strong armed lawyers playing red rover with product development holding some really great tech back.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Very nice, some of your best work!

    I never got my tshirt.

  • avatar
    typ901

    JB. Make up your mind is it the 210 or 220. You’ve referred to both as the biggest POS M-B has made.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Listen carefully. The first manufacturer to do away with integrated nav/info-tainment/stereo systems and put a fairly (within reason) integrated cell phone/small tablet mount on the dash with charging and aux jack capability will have gen X and gen Y beating a path to its door.

    • 0 avatar
      jz78817

      then the question becomes “who takes responsibility for regulatory compliance?” There are FMVSS requirements for certain cockpit controls, you think Apple or app devs are going to shoulder that burden? ‘cos if I’m an automaker, I sure as hell won’t.

      one of the biggest things that gives me pause is that if someone does this, you can bet it’ll be Apple-centric. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to let my car dictate what phone I use.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        Why can’t it be Microsoft-centric? Ford is already using Microsoft software; it’d be a lot easier for them to accommodate a Windows Phone than anyone else an iPhone.

        • 0 avatar
          Silvy_nonsense

          Vulpine, it could be MS centric, but the big argument against coding anything for Windows Phone is that you are only addressing about 2% of the smart phone market.

          Yes, Ford SYNC is based on MS Auto, but there’s not much relationship between the code base of MS Auto and Windows Phone (or Windows 7 or 8 or any other MS product). Because of poor (non-existent) cross-department co-ordination, infighting, empire building and general internal strife at Microsoft, getting Windows Phone to work with MS Auto could prove to be a development nightmare. As a general rule at MS, the more siloed an initiative or project, the more likely it is to succeed. As soon as two different groups need to work together, the chances of success plummet to near zero.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            I have a Windows Phone (Nokia Lumia 928), I know WTF, who has a Windows phone, and I like it. My biggest issue with it is that it doesn’t pair as well to MFT as my work Blackberry or my wife’s iPhone 5.

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            Guys, I mean a USB port and an aux cable with volume nob in the dash along with AM/FM. What else do you NEED?

            You phone is your music library, who cares what the operating system is? Want to use Pandora? Bam, its on you phone. Want to use iTunes? Bam, its on your phone. Spotify? Phone. Satellite radio? Those companies would adopt soon enough with little receivers that could be plugged in.

            I just want to be able to mount my phone to the dash without buying some damn bracket that has to be mounted to a vent or a suction cup or mounting tape or some other crap.

            And every two years I’m going to replace my phone and get the newest technology.

          • 0 avatar
            jz78817

            “Yes, Ford SYNC is based on MS Auto, but there’s not much relationship between the code base of MS Auto and Windows Phone (or Windows 7 or 8 or any other MS product).”

            “MS Auto” is (as I recall) Windows CE with some development and UI toolkits for building automotive HMI software. I don’t know how much if any of those toolkits SYNC actually uses. Again, Microsoft provides the low-level system stuff for SYNC. The stuff you actually interact with was written by someone else.

            @bball40dtw ” I know WTF, who has a Windows phone,”

            I do, HTC 8X.

            @PrincipalDan “I just want to be able to mount my phone to the dash without buying some damn bracket that has to be mounted to a vent or a suction cup or mounting tape or some other crap.”

            good luck with that since phones are different sizes.

          • 0 avatar
            burgersandbeer

            @ PrincipalDan

            A Garmin friction mount works well, especially the low-profile version with the tacky bottom.

            Also get a universal windshield mount like this one: http: //tinyurl.com/jwsv8vf

            Remove the spring-loaded phone holder from the suction cup. Toss suction cup. Attach cheap ebay phone holder to friction mount.

            The friction mount is easily removed and stored in the glove box when you want an uncluttered dash. It does not leave a residue. The cheap ebay phone holder places the weight of the phone too far forward when used with the friction mount, but it is stable enough for regular commuting and some brisk acceleration.

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            My MS auto Ford Sync works perfectly with my iphone, I mean without a glitch, ever from day one with minimal input on my part

            There is no issue here

          • 0 avatar
            noxioux

            bball40dtw(below) +1. I wouldn’t trade my Nokia 928 for ANY iPhone.

            We’re backing into an age-old problem, multiple manufacturers with multiple ideas of how to screw us out of our money, instead of settling on standards and delivering superior products.

            Case in point: Apple’s ‘lighting’ connecter. Why in the name of all that’s holy could they not just put a micro usb plug in there? That’s just the kind of Apple douchebaggery that got me into a Windows phone in the first place.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            Well, box, I’d start with saying the micro USB simply can’t do what the Lightning connector does; at a minimum it can’t handle the current load and it’s not reversible, so plugging it in can be decidedly problematic in certain conditions.

            Besides, we’re talking about cars here, not necessarily what we’re plugging into them. The iPhone CAN use micro USB if so desired, but why do so when the proper cable is readily available for the purpose?

    • 0 avatar
      fastwagon

      PrincipalDan
      I’m replying to your comment below, about not liking the available attachment options for components, brackets, etc. Just screw the damn thing to the dash, and when you’re done with the car, use a vinyl repair kit to hide the hole. It’s your car, and if you keep a car more than a year, there are other wear-and-tear items that will affect resale a lot more then a barely-noticeable repair on the dash. Even the unrepaired holes won’t matter much after five years or so. Have a welder make you up a custom bracket for about $30, so you can place the device of your choice in the location of your choice in the car of your choice. It might require a little work to find a spot on the dash that’s solid enough to screw into. Sometimes, the underside of the glare-visor over your instruments has some screws on the underside, and you can slip a piece of sheet metal in between the panels and hold it with the existing screw, and you could locate a bracket for a tablet just above the two-o’clock point of your steering wheel, which requires less eye diversion than the center-mounts of most nav systems. Be creative. It’s your car. Actually, for the price of the OEM packages, you could find an installer to custom make your charging/aux jack/tablet bracket and have 80% of the package-cost left over. It might require more involvement in working out a feasible bracket configuration and location than you’re used to, but there are people with skills out there who work relatively cheaply, and who like projects off their beaten paths. If you want to get fancy, you can design a detachable bracket for the tablet that attaches to a smaller bracket, so that almost nothing shows when your system isn’t in place.
      – When you consider that integrated electronic systems usually are available only when you get a car with an upgraded trim level, you could save a few thousand bucks this way.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    Interesting side note, if only tangentially related…

    My iPhone contains a pretty good mapping/GPS system. However, in the state of Nevada, it is illegal for a driver to use a “hand-held cellular device” while the vehicle is in motion.

    It is NOT illegal, however, for the driver to use a hand-held GPS device while the vehicle is in motion. So if I manipulate my iPhone’s GPS, I’m breaking the law. If I do the same on my TomTom, I’m not.

    More examples of why the government has no business making laws about technology and how humans interact with it.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      Presumably you would be interacting with your car’s touch screen, which talked to your phone, and not with the “cellular device” itself. This would also alleviate Jack’s need to hide his cell phone, I believe hands-free cell use is legal just about everywhere.

      I can’t help thinking the problem isn’t the government, it’s the bottom line. Car makers are used to charging $2000 for $200 worth of electronics, they don’t want to give that up just to make their customers happy. But at some point–like Kia with standard bluetooth–someone will rock that boat, and eventually everyone else will have to follow.

      • 0 avatar
        cackalacka

        This. Forget the nobama healthcare nonsense.

        The moment something is integrated, the moment oem is integrated, the industry looses the ability to charge 1-4k for nicknacks that are already in your front pocket. Full stop.

        There is daylight for the first maker though.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      This law is ripe for a challenge. When is a cell phone not a cell phone? When it’s a GPS. Also, when is a hand-held not a hand-held? When it’s mounted hands free

  • avatar
    jz78817

    since when is Windows CE “late” (as in deceased?) It’s been renamed but it’s still offered as an embedded OS for multiple architectures. And BTW it has little actual relation to desktop Windows.

    ” I remember being quite indignant when the original E60 BMW iDrive turned out to be based on the late and unlamented Windows CE platform. “If they’d bother to do something with Linux and ARM,” I said, quite condescendingly, “it wouldn’t suck like it does.” Well, they did, and it still does.”

    that’s because the low-level system underpinning these things just doesn’t matter. Ignorants love to point at MFT and sneer “hurr durr see what happens when you use M$ kekekeke BSoD” but the other systems using the Linux kernel, QNX, or even some homegrown thing still have problems. The problems are in the *application code,* and (IMO) mostly because the people designing the system and writing the code already know how to use it.

    what really frightens me about turning multimedia and other functions over to a “Brought-in” device (e.g. smartphone) is the sheer risk involved. I’ve used all of the current major mobile OSes (iOS, Android, and currently Windows Phone) and I’ve honestly got to say they’re no more reliable (if even less so) than the OE automakers’ systems. The OSes themselves may be OK, but the applications running on them can be absolute shit. for example Safari is one of the worst apps on iOS in terms of stability, Apple’s UI design is very nice but they have a track record of some real honkin-big showstopper bugs on iOS releases. If there is to be any kind of real “integration” between a car and the user’s smartphone, then it better be designed to keep the phone way the hell away from any of the vehicle’s critical systems. Don’t let it touch climate controls, lighting, or OBD.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      Build in AM/FM, and Satellite into the touch-screen. Then have an interface to the phone for everything else.

      Give me two knobs for volume and tuning/up-down functions. And hard buttons for the climate-control. Along with a decent voice-command system: think SYNC, not Honda’s offering!

      Done.

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    The thing to do is create something extremly simple, user friendly and robust. This way, it can still be useable 15+ years in the future.

  • avatar
    Feds

    The future is now, it’s just not evenly distributed.

    Take a poke around Chinavasion.com. You can buy a 3g/wifi enabled radio/detachable android tablet today, which will come with the kit to integrate your steering wheel buttons.

    (Edit: screwed up the link)

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    If we are going to have a war, that war should start with getting touchscreens out of cars to start with. Utterly stupid, there is simply no way to use one without looking at the thing. I’m as tech-connected 40-something IT geek as you are ever going to find, and the very LAST thing I want in my car is touchscreen anything. On a GPS it is a necessary evil, but otherwise, no thanks. Probably the very best setup I have used for

    I loved everything about the Regal Turbo I had last week except for the cosmically awful touch (in)sensitive heated seat and temperature controls. Infuriating. The huge touchscreen for the “infotainment” was pretty annoying, but at least the major functions also had buttons and knobs.

    But I don’t really think Jack is on the right path about the lack of phone integration – I think it is more that the OEMs love that they can sell a couple hundred bucks worth of hardware and software as a $1995 NAV system. And another $500 for “connected apps” or whatever.

    • 0 avatar
      Neb

      Not that I’m totally unsympathetic to Jack’s “uncertainty due to gubbermint” argument, but I think it is at best a piece of a larger picture.

      Now that all the Car maker/software comparisons are flying about, it occurs to me modern carmakers are a lot like software/tech companies from the 80s and 90s – they want to use their market position to lock you in to buying only from them whenever possible, and to that end develop their own in house products to do jobs the customer can already do with other tech they already have. It doesn’t really matter that their products are inferior to those in the wider market, and are much more expensive. You want it, you gotta pay our price. Real universality and the ability to modify how you want will only be offered when those things take over the market and make the market locker (let’s call ‘em) a laughing stock.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      Agreed, added to that it doesn’t help that most touchscreens today have very poor design, oh yea they have that instant “wow” look, but it won’t be long until that “wow” becomes a “AAHHH!! I just want to turn on the AC!”.

  • avatar
    ash78

    Once upon a time, manufacturers realized that people wanted to upgrade their stuff, so they standardized the slot (or slots!) in the dash to accommodate a worldwide standard called DIN.

    As a nice gesture, the manufacturer would kindly provide you a low-to-midrange radio/cassette/CD/etc to get you through the warranty period (at most) and then you could drop $100-$300 on something 10 times better. Every few years, rinse and repeat, usually with a little help from Crutchfield if you were the semi-DIY type. Or Best Buy if you wanted to add some rattling to your dash and watch 27 cents disappear from your cupholder.

    Then a few manufacturers (Honda comes to mind from my late 90s anecdotes) realized that they could provide a half-decent factory stereo and put it into a proprietary dashboard. Then, if people wanted something better, they could come to the dealer and pay the sum of ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS (place pinky in corner of mouth).

    But this backfired on a lot of Honda’s aftermarket/tuner fanbois who, whether Honda likes it are not, are an important part of the brand’s foundation. But the ball was already rolling into the 2000s and a point where today, it seems like there are almost no DIN-equipped vehicles and anyone wishing to upgrade has to face a lot of modification and filler panels.

    With today’s modern, smaller electronics, how about a DIN comeback?

    • 0 avatar
      kvndoom

      That’s one of the reasons the Scion Tc (or is it tC? I forget) is at the top of my list right now. Its only close competitor is (ironically) an Accord Coupe EX 6-Model T (i.e. 6MT, since it only comes in black).

      Since I do love having a nice system in my car, the TC (or tc?) has me salivating. And it comes in blue. But I miss my 2011 Accord so terribly much… I need a job that will let me buy both. Choosing sucks.

    • 0 avatar
      jz78817

      “With today’s modern, smaller electronics, how about a DIN comeback?”

      not likely. Brick radios went away because the designers/stylists in the studio hate them. Tasked with creating a coherent theme in the interior design and then handed this ugly black rectangle to stick in the middle.

      besides, 1 DIN is IMO too small for a radio; the display capability is too limited and the buttons usually end up being too small.

      Nevermind the fact that most aftermarket equipment is utter garbage.

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      Aftermarket head units are grossly overrated. In my last car and my current car, the previous owner went aftermarket. Fortunately they kept the OEM unit, because I put it back in both cases. All I need is a way to connect my phone. For the older car, I was content to do this with a tape adapter.

      The signal coming from the OEM head unit was fine. It’s the speakers where most OEM sound systems fall apart.

      • 0 avatar
        LeeK

        In my experience, it is the other way around. The factory amplifiers are ridiculously underpowered and often have limiters to prevent clipping and therefore speaker damage which ends up greatly muddying the sound. An aftermarket amplifier connected to the factory head unit and speakers usually is the best bang for the buck. Unless it is one of the lower-end factory Bose units. With weird 0.5 ohm impedance and cheap crappy tweeters, I’ve found ripping the whole POS out of the car is the only viable step in getting reasonable sound.

        The problem today is so much of the car’s electronics is routed through the head unit and integrated with other functions that the old days of just calling Crutchfield and putting in an Alpine receiver in the dash are long gone. I know of BMW owners having to keep the factory unit integrated with the replacement system (mounting the
        OEM radio in the trunk or glove compartment) in order to maintain steering wheel button, satellite radio, and Blue Tooth functionality. It’s a very complicated world today that requires more expertise found than typically found at a Best Buy.

      • 0 avatar
        kvndoom

        That made me LOL. If you were content to use a cassette adapter going into a headphone jack on a cell phone (I can’t even begin to describe how much signal fidelity is lost in that chain) then perhaps your ears can’t pick up the difference between an OEM deck and a good aftermarket one, hence “overrated.”

        And that’s not an insult. One person’s ears won’t work the same as the next person’s. People are like snowflakes, after all.

        • 0 avatar
          davefromcalgary

          kvn,

          I do just what you describe in my 02 Alero. Tape deck adapter, iphone…

          The reason I stick with this setup is because I find that most aftermarket decks either only have two brightness settings, or if they do dim they never get anywhere near dim enough to not be a distraction out in the middle of no where in the middle of the night. To get an aftermarket deck with a proper dimmer you have to pay way more than the rest of the features I want warrant.

          Oh well.

        • 0 avatar
          burgersandbeer

          You are probably right about my ears, and I count myself as lucky for that. I spend enough on transportation without worrying about the sound system too.

          The car with the tape deck was more of a usability thing. Even I knew the sound wasn’t great. The touch screen aftermarket unit was driving me crazy though.

          Installing the OEM radio in my current car resulted in an improvement in sound quality compared to the aftermarket unit (and this time I’ve moved on to 3.5mm and CDs!).

          • 0 avatar
            kvndoom

            I thought about and I actually agree with you, that it does all depend on who makes what and how well. I can use my previous 2 cars as a great example.

            2009 Mazdaspeed- the radio unit had a nice flat signal (tested by others with an o-scope), but the bose amp and speakers were awful. Replacing those gave great results.

            2011 Honda Accord w/nav – radio was great, and surprisingly, when I installed my own amps instead of the factory ones, the factory speakers were awesome! I never took them out.

            In the end, I am of the belief that the quality of the source unit, amp, and speakers have equal weight. It’s all about upgrading the weak links and balancing it out.

      • 0 avatar
        jz78817

        “Aftermarket head units are grossly overrated. In my last car and my current car, the previous owner went aftermarket. Fortunately they kept the OEM unit, because I put it back in both cases. All I need is a way to connect my phone. For the older car, I was content to do this with a tape adapter.”

        Agreed here. They have no benefit in sound quality because the aftermarket head units use the same off-the-shelf 4-channel BTL amplifier ICs which ST, NXP, and Toshiba sell billions of. And anyone who thinks it’s reasonable to pay $800 for a head unit because of its “copper plated chassis, yo” is an idiot whose opinion doesn’t matter.

        “The signal coming from the OEM head unit was fine. It’s the speakers where most OEM sound systems fall apart.”

        I disagree, at least in part. I’ve tested some terrible OEM speakers, and I’ve tested some very good ones. I’ve tested a number of aftermarket speakers, and they’ve all been enormous pieces of junk. I don’t care if a speaker has a sparkly “graphite” cone, a heavy cast frame, and a “75 watt” power rating if it puts out 80% THD in the midbass when driven at head unit power levels (16 watts cont. avg.)

  • avatar
    JoelW

    Just for perspective…

    I know that car/phone integration is all the rage these days… but there are those (such as myself) who have no interest. I’m sure the day will come when my kind are extinct and literally “everyone” will take such technology for granted as being just another part of their daily lives.

    But I do not believe we are there yet.

    So, to put it another way…. my car is my means of getting me from place to place as I desire (pristine 2005 Pontiac Bonneville) and my phone allows me to call someone when I need to (some cheap LG flip phone). I am very pleased with both and they are *not* allowed to co-mingle.

    When I am driving… I concentrate on – “my driving” (what else?)… which I enjoy. If there is an emergency where I need to call someone now, I will pull the car over or park and conduct that business. This arrangement works just fine for me.

    I have never sent a text message in my life.

    Say what you want about people like me, but the fact is… we exist. At least for the moment.

    • 0 avatar
      morbo

      …”(pristine 2005 Pontiac Bonneville)…”

      Liar. No such car exists. Bonneville’s were scraped together from Lucifer’s bones, baked in Hell’s own furnace. Interior plastics were molded from castor and rapeseed grown on Hell’s half-acre. Cloth seating was sewn by succubus’ foul and demented, and leather tanned from the hides of the damned. Once receiving the GM stamp of approval, demon-spawn would sign you a contract for ownership at the dealership, but at the cost of your soul.

      OK, I may be a ‘little’ bitter from my ’03 Bonneville lemon. But I’m pretty sure I’ve got the GM manufacturing process down for Pontiacs.

      • 0 avatar
        Drzhivago138

        The plural of succubus is succubi. Thanks for the laugh, though.

      • 0 avatar
        JoelW

        Thank you Morbo for so eloquently compiling a list of my favorite attributes of my 2005 Bonneville in such a succinct manner :)

        Wish you’d had a better experience with your ’03… personally, I love driving this (pristine) car due to the fact that each and every day there is more evidence that carmakers have somehow forgotten how to make a decent, sporty, low-slung, large sedan.

        But I do take some grim satisfaction on my daily commute as I am lost in a sea CUVs and tall (TALL!) sedans…

        • 0 avatar
          morbo

          Lucky you, you must’ve gotten a ‘defective’ one that had all the screws tightened. I always loved the shape and style, if not the repeated injector failures, bodyseal cracks,and transmission failures in mine.

          That said, my ’11 Chrylser 300C has everything but the low slung part down tight, but that’s more of function of the factory 20′s (which I admit regret getting now).

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      +1,000,000!!! These mobile phones were a luxury to me as someone born in 1970!! Why the damn things are now a “necessity” is anyone’s guess, as is having to pay up the wazoo every month for the privilege!

      That said, I am looking for a prepaid Android smart phone of some type. RELUCTANTLY! (And I’m a 43 year-old computer geek of the highest order!) It’s the $$$ every month, when it comes down to it! (Give up my landline? Nope! Where I live, I could end up triangulating to cell towers in a neighboring jurisdiction, not something I want to happen when the house is on fire and the phone’s GPS decides to futz-out! “‘x’ 911, what is your emergency!!” “I LIVE IN ‘y’!!!”)

      Just MHO! No flame wars, please!

  • avatar
    rem83

    Isn’t Chevy about 75% of the way there with their lower end MyLink units in the Spark and Sonic? They’re super cheap (~$600 on the Sonic LS, ~200 on the LT and included on the Spark LT) on trim levels where they’re not standard, and interface with an app on the user’s phone. The only real difference is that you’re not using the phone’s interface on the car, you’re using the car’s interface on the phone – but there is some degree of upgrade capability, especially with maps.

  • avatar
    kvndoom

    Okay. Offer the car with two options:

    1) for the Luddites. A basic (AM/FM, USB, AUX) double DIN radio. Customer buys it with the EXPECTATION of replacing it with something from SonicElectronix one day.

    2) For the smaprtphone-addicted. A Bluetooth-enabled dumb screen (touchscreen with no underlying software). Install the app on your phone, and when you start the car, the screen mirrors your phone, only tablet-sized. Audio goes through Bluetooth and gets piped into the factory amp/speakers. Customer buys a new phone, boom, the screen in their car becomes the interface they know. Has a USB port so that firmware updates can be done via thumb drive. App updates are obviously handled phone-side.

    I would never, ever integrate HVAC into a damn radio. People who do that should be castrated. “Why is it so cold Mommy?” “Because the radio is broken.”

    If I was designing cars, that’s what I would do.

    Why isn’t it being done? Money!!! What’s the markup on these infotainment systems? Even better, what do you think the out-of-warranty costs would be to get one replaced? Taking apart the whole dash at $100 an hour? PLUS parts markup? Yeah, good for 36000 miles my ass.

    • 0 avatar
      morbo

      HVAC integration into the touchscreen is fine. Chrysler UConnect has it down right, with redundant mechanical controls and further tertiary redundancy with voice activated controls. If you’re worried about the tertiary controls failing, you probably should just take the bus.

      • 0 avatar
        bball40dtw

        That’s the direction that MyFord Touch has gone as well. I haven’t used the touchscreen for anything HVAC in awhile. Always voice or physical buttons. On C-platform vehicles like the Focus, C-Max, and Escape, you can’t control the heated seats through the touch screen either.

        The MkC, which is a good indicator of future Ford/Lincoln center stacks, has both traditional knobs AND buttons for the radio and HVAC system. I think its the right balance.

      • 0 avatar
        kvndoom

        I get your point, but in the name of “progress” (which is this article’s theme), it stands to reason that those tertiary manual controls will eventually go away (and they have, in some cars). Then you will only have touchscreen and voice, which are both tied into the same central system.

        • 0 avatar
          bball40dtw

          Ford/Lincoln had the manual controls replaced in some cars with touch screen and haptic feedback controls. It didn’t work as well as they thought. The manual volume and tune knobs need to stay.

        • 0 avatar
          sgeffe

          Somebody had better school Honda on voice-recognition stuff! My 2013 Accord Touring’s system is no better than the 2nd-generation system on my old 2006 Accord, and is by far and away the weakest part of the 9th-Gen Accords! (Even the NAVI interface and graphics looks OK; hopefully the hard drive-based updates via thumb-drive will include UX updates in addition to POI/navigational information.)

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        None of this is new, I had a similar DOS based OS with CR tube touchscreen on my ’86 Riviera. It operated all HVAC, radio, trip computer etc. without issue. It did have redundant manual controls, which I never used because it was so user friendly and all of this before anyone had a home PC or cell phone. I just wish the car had worked as well as the control center

        • 0 avatar
          Ryoku75

          I’ve seen GMs old touchscreens in action, by todays standards they look primitive but functionally hardly anything rivals them, their interface is a piece of cake to read and they’re responsive.

          And you didn’t have to patch it every 5 weeks, instead you spent more time fixing GM bean counter-stuff.

          • 0 avatar
            ajla

            Not sure on the Riv/Reatta/Eldorado, but I know at one point you could even get cellular phone integration on the Trofeo.

            I don’t mean just a car phone. You could use the touch screen to make calls.

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            You’re right, it did have cell phone integration, but cell service being hardly there and expensive in ’86 I never had use for that feature

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      Just because a touch screen that integrates with your phone costs loss and theoretically offers less, doesn’t mean they have to charge less for it. I don’t know about $2k, but I might be more willing to shell out for a future-proof system as opposed to something I won’t really use and may even have to pay more money to change someday.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      “I would never, ever integrate HVAC into a damn radio. People who do that should be castrated.”

      Agreed.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Automakers have wanted to use unique technology as a means of differentiating themselves from their competitors — they have not liked the idea of turning technology into a commmodity offering. But the results of that effort have been dubious, and will probably never quite work out as originally hoped.

    It’s also easier and cheaper to install a screen than it is to wire a variety of buttons that provide the same functions. That motivation is more manufacturer-driven than customer-driven.

    The first point will probably result in improved integration. Unfortunately, the motivator for the second point is likely to ensure that certain car controls that used to be fairly straightforward will now continue to be buried inside of menus and not particularly easy to use on the fly. This is one of those instances when the old days really were better.

  • avatar
    Prado

    I do not think we are that far off from an ideal state of integration with the current crop of AppRadios. Standard BT and other communications protocols exist such that phone upgrade issues should be a thing of the past.Hardware and memory are cheap enough where it shouldn’t really be a concern if the App resides in the car or smart phone or both. The biggest issue I still see is the OEMs giving 3rd party developers and end users open reign on what can be installed. The OEMs may fear the wrath of the G man, but they are effectively being just as oppresive by dictating what apps are and arent allowed in their cars.

  • avatar
    ash78

    I saw the title and the donk* pic and was honestly expecting a vaguely classist (or downright racist) rant about embracing various auto subcultures. Even if that wasn’t Jack’s intent with the imagery, the double entendre is still strong.

    *Yes, it’s technically a box, but colloquially we just call them all donks.

  • avatar
    philadlj

    I’d love to see this issue pop up in future presidential debates…in both parties.

  • avatar
    Toy Maker

    How hard/long is it until those third party companies start offering an interface to bridge the car with the phone like a Scanguage?

    It would just be a mini computer tucked away nicely beside the aftermarket amp.

    And you can import any feature in your car that is electronically wired.

  • avatar
    redav

    Yes, it’s 2013, and I don’t use my phone for music or entertainment. No, I’m not a Luddite–I’m just not addicted to my phone. I also prefer knobs and buttons over touchscreens in cars because they are the superior technology for that application. So long as a USB works as well as a CD (doesn’t take any noticeable time to scan, doesn’t start over at the beginning each time, etc.), it is a near-perfect match for my needs.

    • 0 avatar
      Hummer

      +1,000,074

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      I’m shocked to see someone else that prefers buttons and knobs, I’ve tried several “Smartphones” and hated how they’d absorb smudges, make fake button press noises, never did quite what I wanted, I just wanted my plastic buttons back.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        I have yet to use a touch screen in any application where it performs better than buttons (where buttons could be used): remote controls, phones, radios, etc.

        Touch screens *do* work better when you need infinite adjustability (such as selecting locations on a map).

        • 0 avatar
          Vulpine

          At least for now, a hybrid system seems to be the best choice; one that uses buttons to trigger specific display modes (HVAC/entertainment/navigation/etc.) with the specific controls for those functions then on the display itself. That’s much more reasonable than nesting functions under stacks of menus. The military has been using displays in this manner for years.

          However, I strongly agree that some functions need mechanical redundant controls. HVAC in particular needs a mechanical back up system in the event of electronic failure in extreme heat or cold conditions–which are typically the conditions where electronics tend to fail. An inability to blast heat to help cool then engine in an overheat situation or heat the cabin in sub-zero temperatures could mean damage to the engine itself or injury to the occupants under those conditions.

        • 0 avatar
          sgeffe

          +large numbers to the USB thing–a thumb drive will hold a lot of music, and at least in my Accord, it will pick up where it left off after a brief scan of the contents. (I know some car makes are better in that regard than others.)

          @Vulpine, my Accord does just that–the HVAC is a separate unit–hard buttons or voice control. (I always drive with the A/C off on an automatic climate-control, and in my last Accord, some functions were controlled on the touch screen; I always had to navigate a menu to turn off the A/C after selecting “AUTO,” or to select airflow direction.)

  • avatar
    ajla

    Changed my mind. Not worth it.

  • avatar
    racer-esq.

    A businessman asking why a company charges 2,000 (that he paid) for a feature insted of giving it away? ICE is one of the few high margin options left on regular cars, and also something that manufacturers are (poorly attempting) to use to differentiate increasingly commoditized cars and CUVs.

    This has nothing to do with the government.

    • 0 avatar
      Hummer

      Govt required back up cameras (OTW or so I hear) isn’t a government involved problem?

      I can’t think of any other reason manufacturers wouldn’t offer regular non-LCD radios.

      • 0 avatar
        darkwing

        I can think of two. One, it’s a lot easier to navigate through the contents of a connected media player with a multi-line screen rather than a one- or two-line display. Second, and perhaps more importantly, non-nav touchscreens haven’t been around all that often, so lots of people still go “ooo, fancy” when they see one.

        • 0 avatar
          Hummer

          I can see your second point, your first point maybe.
          I’d still take a 3 knob(volume/station tuner/ equalizer) radio with buttons, CD player and aux hookup every day of the week.

          • 0 avatar
            darkwing

            I mostly agree with you there.

            I’m pretty happy with my current setup — a decent, non-touch LCD, with one big knob and plenty of ancillary buttons. It’s kind of the best of both worlds; there’s no need to poke a touchscreen, yet I can still navigate my iPhone library pretty easily.

          • 0 avatar
            redav

            Screens are good for displaying info–they are not good for controls.

            We’ve had over half a century to fine-tune buttons & knobs for car radios. Touch screens are still newish, and the functions they try to do are constantly changing–it’s a moving target. Of course the knobs are going to work better.

            The point of “ooh, fancy” is exactly correct. People want a new phone every six months, not because there’s any real improvement, but because shiny. That’s what infotainment is–it’s new; it’s shiny; it isn’t better, but that is irrelevant.

        • 0 avatar
          Lie2me

          “non-nav touchscreens haven’t been around all that often, so lots of people still go “ooo, fancy” when they see one.”

          They’ve been around since the mid-’80s, people just didn’t want them

      • 0 avatar
        racer-esq.

        “Govt required back up cameras (OTW or so I hear) isn’t a government involved problem?”

        The government is requiring the screens for the backup cameras.

        But Jack is wrong that fear of government regulation is preventing automakers from letting people replicate their smartphones on those screens.

        The automakers just want to keep the profit from systems like navigation, and the product differentiation that comes from having their own interfaces, instead of just the owners smart phone environments replicated on the screen.

        Still, with screens soon coming to all cars, no matter how cheap, I expect one of the marginal (in the US) automakers looking for a competitive advantage (maybe Mitsubishi) to offer full smartphone integration into the screen.

        I am hoping that the automakers still keep the HVAC and basic stereo functions separate from the screen.

  • avatar
    jberger

    There is an industry standard for mirroring the phone interface on a remote touchscreen, it’s called Mirrorlink. It’s been evolving over the past 3 years and has matured to the point that both Aftermarket Audio and OEM’s are planning to incorporate it into mainstream units. One of the sticking points with the OEM’s has been a mechanism to restrict certain apps while the car is in motion and they appear to have worked out the details in the 2013 revision to meet that demand.

    Apple has it’s option called “iOS in the Car” and it’s a lot like mirror link but includes better integration with auto manufacturers existing control options like wheel mounted buttons, hard buttons on the dash, etc.

    The market seems to be dividing into 2 camps, luxury makes are trying to integrate all of the tech options into the car and regular makes are looking to use the driver’s device as the primary. The pace of change in the consumer electronics space will make it VERY difficult for the luxury makes to keep up so it will eventually become a 2 screen solution. The OEM will have it’s own core tech presented on screen and use a technology like Mirrorlink to support apps outside of the car’s specific needs.

    Toyota’s doing a fairly good job with Entune, if they would add mirrorlink it would be a much better low end solution.

    • 0 avatar
      darkwing

      MirrorLink’s essentially one-way only, right? My phone will work in a pinch if I’m navigating in a car, but I’d much rather have access to the car’s much better GPS unit and properly calibrated compass.

      Never mind the thought of relying on VNC gives me hives.

      • 0 avatar
        Quentin

        The Bing app on Entune works pretty well at integrating the search feature into the in-car Nav. I usually search for whatever business I’m heading to before, get in the car, sync saved destinations, and all is kosher. I didn’t think I’d care for the built in nav in my Prius v, but it does work quite well. Using Maps on my iPhone works well enough, but I don’t have somewhere handy to store the phone where I can see it at a glance. I pretty much rely on the voice commands when I’m using it.

  • avatar
    skakillers

    JB knows RMS?! This is like fanfiction that is targeted to only me.

  • avatar
    ajla

    At least GM’s 3.8L, 3.3L, and 4.5L FWD cars circa 1988 still manage to be on the road. When is the last time you heard something nice about the Essex (other than from Fel-Pro for the business it gave them)?

    1988 was also the debut of the 3.8L Lincoln Continental. Way to take the Lesabre Custom head on! And lose.

    Beyond that, the Brougham existed in 1988. And it looked better than the Town Car.

    So there.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      True, but Brougham was still using the Olds 307 then though, 307 < 302 HO.

      I would say the only Ford car stuff from the whole period still around today would be your straggler pre-96 Tauri and Panthers, everything else is long gone. Most GM car stuff is gone too except the motors your named and some 60V6 applications.

      • 0 avatar
        bball40dtw

        Wasn’t GM significantly out producing Ford back then? Especially if you take out trucks. There should be more General Motors products on the road based on how many they sold. Same with the Taurus. So many Tauri.

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        I remember seeing a late 80′searly 90′s GM not that long ago with the vintage touchscreen still in it, I should’ve asked if I could try it out! I couldn’t tell what it was though, I think maybe a Buick with an ugly fake Brougham top, it was too swoopy-iah to be a Caddy.

        But most pre-96 domestic cars I see are Chryslers in various shapes, usually plain Omnizons and K-cars, almost none of their pseudo luxury cars. People hang onto these for their cheap price, reasonable mpg, decent if slow engines, and their impressive space.

        With Ford and Chevy I see far more GMs from the 90′s at my local junkyard, certainly more 80′s BOF GM’s than Panthers.
        Theres more B-Bodies there than I’d expect.

        At the same time theres always Camrys, Mazdas, newer Korean cars, and at times even late Toyota Celicas. European offerings aren’t so common though.

  • avatar
    carlisimo

    Speaking of Mercedes Benz and phones, why do their cars have dialpads in them? Who remembers phone numbers anymore?

  • avatar
    imag

    I am stunned that no one has mentioned that this integration is not nearly as simple as your friend suggested.

    For one thing, the HD image sent from the GoPro is heavily compressed. Bluetooth is not sufficient for clear, two-way, lag-free transport of high resolution video data.

    More important, a phone is not designed to drive variable resolution displays. It takes a huge amount of optimization work to get a phone to cleanly drive the OS it has on it, and Android already has a big integration problem with the variety of screen resolutions the OS is being asked to support.

    And what happens when old screens are no longer supported by new phones, or old phones cannot handle a newer screen, or the wireless display technology (like bluetooth) is upgraded? Then your car’s screen is now a brick.

    This stuff is non-trivial, and as mentioned above, the patent issues and the various phone OSes make it worse. It’s not that I disagree with the ideas being presented here, but I do think people are hand waving about some very tricky things to put into practice. There is a reason wireless display technology is still not widely used. When it is, it is typically used between two devices that were designed specifically for the resolution and communication required.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      This fellow and I cooked up a pretty sophisticated piece of equipment in ninety days, along with a ten-person dev team, and were in production with it very shortly after. He’s not accustomed to the can’t-do mindset, for better or worse. Not to say that you’re espousing that mindset, but objections like that are brought up every time somebody brings something new to market.

      All the low-hanging fruit has already been picked.

      • 0 avatar
        imag

        I am not saying it’s an insurmountable problem in the long run, but I do think there is a large amount of technology risk. Unlike phones or consumer electronics, automaker’s systems are expected to last a decade at the very least. If they break regularly or refuse to cooperate with some phones, the value of their five figure automobile will go drop significantly. And, believe it or not, but plenty of folks still don’t have smart phones. I don’t blame the automakers for just doing their best to create a comprehensive embedded system.

        That said, I think your call for change is a good one. I would love to see a new standard for the communications between the screens and the phones. I just think that the interoperability issues between a vast variety of phones and screens are orders of magnitude greater than the creation of a novel proprietary device. Bluetooth 3.0 has a maximum 24 Mbps data rate, (a DVI cable is 3.9 Gbps for reference), so that means the phones and the in-car systems both need to use a compatible compression and sending technology. It is possible that a multiplatform phone app could handle it, but then automakers would have to continually update the app while maintaining backward compatibility, etc.

        And ultimately the large margins on nav systems that automakers receive give them little incentive to speed the transition. I’ll bet they love that $2k checkbox on the options sheet. I am not a fan of the greed that drives these absurdly priced options (*cough* Porsche), but I think it is a difficult battle to fight. The electronics patent battle is a whole other story, one that is crippling our ability to innovate.

        Credit to anyone who can pull it off. I suspect Apple or Google needs to be behind it, but I would love to be proved wrong.

  • avatar
    CarnotCycle

    You make it available to Apple and Android devices, secure in the knowledge that any competitor which appears in the next ten years will need to “play nice”

    There is a problem here. Using one fixed touchscreen display, you will not be able to display all devices at their native resolutions. So the device will have to either output the car touchscreen’s native display from the buffer (more complex integration than just Bluetooth), or the touchscreen does some snazzy graphics processing, or you’re stuck with fuzzy-pixel aliasing from a lot of devices. This is actually a problem one needs to proactively address when starting Android emulators (in the display scaling on startup) using the SDK’s AVD Manager.

  • avatar
    Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

    Not bad, but none of this precludes having OEMs offer a box that incorporates all these things (as well as having ‘pass throughs’ for attached phones) which can be software upgradable, and even swappable at the dealer or via trapdoor in the back of the glovebox.

    They don’t do it because people will pay $2k for the nav system, and they don’t upgrade it unless there’s a ‘recall’ flaw because upgrading existing cars doesn’t sell new cars.

    Of course, when Tesla keeps older cars’ firmwares up to date and shows the inbred, sclerotic, imbecilic incumbent auto management how to treat customers in the modern day, hopefully they’ll be embarrassed enough to actually update their vehicles’ firmwares.

  • avatar
    motormouth

    The Opel/Vauxhall Adam is well advanced in doing away with the over-priced head unit, as most functionality is delivered via the owner’s (user’s?) smartphone. So music, maps, talk, etc, is no longer a function of the car. There’s a similar system on the way for Hyundai/Kia, as far as I’m aware, so it looks like the days of the extortionately priced IT add-ons that OEMs and dealers have been using to jack up their margins with over the last decade or two is finally coming to an end.

    Not that I think profit is a bad thing, but $2,000 for a TomTom because it’s integrated into the dash is – and always will be – absurd. Perhaps if the carmakers hadn’t been so anxious to rip each customer a new one when it came to such add-ons, people wouldn’t have been so eager to see in-car tech cut out of the loop.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    Save the integration for fancy expensive stuff, I don’t want to pay an extra thousand bucks for a decently-equipped Mazda just for a touchscreen that I’ll never use (I’ll probably carve it out and sell it sooner than anything).

    Plus I’ve never seen a touchscreen with a good Interface, I’ve seen plenty where the designers more than likely congratulated themselves and applauded their artistic vision, but never one that I could sit down and actually USE, now try driving a car while you’re scrolling through the work of a designer that sees you as a mere uneducated ant.

    GMs old DOS touchscreens are a bit small, but they’re not distracting, they’re laid out very well, frankly look cool I think (humble cosmetics, nothing designy), and they will out last the cars that house them.

    Now let me get back to prying out my aftermarket CD player, I’m going back to a factory cassette piece.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      As a rule, very few ‘designers’ follow sound design process. Instead, most usually have a cool idea and shoehorn it into an application. Here, they don’t evaluate the real need of what a car’s infotainment system must do and create a solution to that need. They instead are given the form of the solution (e.g., a touch screen) and tasked with making it look neat and be different from the competition.

  • avatar
    VenomV12

    Ha ha, I had that same StarTac/Timeport phone in my old S Class, loved that thing. I kept it when I sold the car, still have it in a drawer somewhere.

    I don’t know if the W220 was that bad. I had the mass airflow sensor replaced on mine, a couple of times my Airmatic suspension malfunctioned and the car sank right down, but I shut it off, started it back up and it was fine, and once in awhile I would get check engine lights from the gas cap not being tight enough. My buddy’s similar S had the dash go out completely and the HVAC control unit and his driver’s door seat control panel, but he also treated his like crap.

    What I have learned over the years if that a lot of so called crap cars aren’t that crappy and don’t break if you don’t beat on them. Go figure.

  • avatar
    shaker

    Make the car’s touchscreen a Web Browser, give the phone a unique IP address, and communicate via wired or secure wireless Ethernet. Leave the HVAC controls as “hard-wired” as to their primary function, but allow secondary access via the web browser (touch screen) interface.

    The phone will act as a dedicated server for the car’s “browser”, and the adaptability of browsers to the enormous variety of HTML sources should reduce the compatibility issues.

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      Shaker, in general I like the flexibility of controlling the phone using a separate web browser, but phone companies currently go to great lengths to block/charge extra for tethering a separate computer to the phone. I think they’re trying to regulate data usage by forcing customers to use the small screen and inconvenient user interface. The other issue with remote control of the phone using web browser interface is it’s dependent on having a fast data link. I’d prefer to have small form factor, upgradable, PC built into the car with the phone mostly as a dumb server for music. However, I absolutely hate touch screens and have never warmed up to using them as an input device. I prefer the tactile feedback of real buttons and knobs.

      • 0 avatar
        shaker

        I don’t disagree with you that the phone company will want their profits out of any extra capabilities that the particular phone may have. But as to the question presented, I believe that a “browser” interface would be the universal answer to coupling any phone to any automotive head unit for the purposes of using the navigation and music capabilities already built into every smartphone.
        Think of how we configure a home router, using a “web-type” interface with an IP address.
        I agree that climate control functions should have dedicated (i.e. “hard-wired”) controls, with the *option” of touchscreen access.

  • avatar
    Towncar

    Loved the picture of the Timeport phone. I didn’t know Mercedes had this option, but the Town Car did in ’03. It’s the only feature mine is without and I’ve always wondered how it worked.

    The factory brochure says it “features voice activated name or digit dialing for hands-free use. It also enables the satellite-based Global Positioning Sytem, which offers Safety and Security services, Route Guidance and Point of Interest Location information.” I don’t think there was a dashboard screen with it, so they must have delivered all that through the phone somehow.


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