By on April 19, 2014

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Former Hyundai executive John Krafcik recently spoke about connectivity and autonomy and of the possibility that electronic gizmos in our cars may make us less connected to the driving experience. That’s not the only challenge automakers and drivers face when it comes to electronics in cars. After seeing the missteps that Ford has made with Sync and MyFordTouch, with systems seemingly too complicated or not reliable enough for many drivers, it appears to me that the challenge of chasing a technological treadmill to try and keep cars, which most consumers keep for years, electronically up to date, is a fools errand. Comments to Derek’s post on Krafcik’s statement indicated that there’s definitely a market for less complicated car electronics. People have asked, “why does my car need to duplicate the more up-to-date services that my smartphone provides?” Well, someone at Continental Tire’s electronics and instrument division, VDO, asked that same question and they came up with the Flexible Smartphone Docking Station.

Actually, they didn’t ask that precise question because the FSDS seems to have been originally intended for use in commercial trucks, not passenger cars, but it should work with any 12 volt electrical system. I found out about Continental’s phone dock while I was updating our coverage of Elio Motors and the inexpensive three wheeler they say they’ll start making and selling next year. As part of the deal for Continental to provide Elio with electrical and electronic engineering services that include the vehicle’s wiring harness and engine control unit, Elio will also offer the FSDS system as an option on their trikes. It’s a clever and seemingly cost-effective way of providing what we now call infotainment without having to spend lots of money developing software that will be obsolete while the original owners are still driving their cars. I go over the FSDS in my update about Elio, but not everyone is interested in the Elio trike, and this has relevance to the general discussion of connectivity complexity so I thought I’d break this out into a separate post with a bit more detail.

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Continental’s Flexible Smartphone Docking Station (FSDS) has simple controls and software designed for one-click operation.

Continental’s Commercial Vehicles & Aftermarket division, along with VDO, introduced the Flexible Smartphone Docking Station (FSDS) at last year’s Consumer Electronics Show and has been showing it since then at trucking industry trade shows as part of a suite of connectivity products. The FSDS system was designed to let truck drivers’ integrate their smartphones with their vehicles. It appears that Continental is also marketing it as AutoLinQ™Mobile. AutoLinQ is Continental’s brand for in-vehicle connectivity.

Elio-Motors-Continental-Docking-Station

The FSDS installed in the Elio Motors trike.

The phone mounts to the FSDS with a mechanical clamp designed to hold most smartphones and comes with a phone app, developed by Continental, that enables the availability of phone features, including online services, while driving. The unit, which connects  to the smartphone via standard Bluetooth profiles, has an onboard audio amplifier with four channels rated at 20 Watts per channel, an integrated station seeking FM tuner, a 5 volt USB tap for charging your phone and it’s already configured to interface with your vehicle via the CAN bus (which to me sounds like your phone could theoretically be used to control some of your car’s features, just like a built in touch screen). Audio files on thumb drives and memory cards can also be accessed via the USB port on the FSDS’ mounting plate.

In terms of what you can do with it, VDO says that the FSDS app includes the smartphone functions drivers require most while driving, such as phone calls, maps, online points of interest, and music selection. All features use text to speech to reduce distracted driving, and the app bundles related services such as Community (communication & social networking), Vehicle (audio entertainment) and Proximity (individual add-ons) so they can be accessed with a single click. The FSDS is sized to fit a standard single height DIN slot so it can easily be installed in any vehicle made to take a radio. The controls appear to be simple, with just a power switch and a four-position controller.

When they introduced it last year Continental was promoting the FSDS to OEMs and fleets, though it’s being marketed by the same part of Continental that sells to the aftermarket and it’s got obvious potential as something people might want to use to update older cars that have “radios” and “stereos”, not “infotainment”. TTAC has a request in to Continental for pricing information and any news on consumer availability.

With production lead times measured in years rather than months, car makers can’t possibly keep up with the changes in digital consumer electronics and related software applications. By the time a car company’s latest revision to their infotainment systems hits the showrooms, it’s obsolete compared to what many car buyers already have in their pockets and purses. My first thought was that other car companies may follow Elio’s lead and offer the FSDS or something very  much like it in order to provide modern infotainment features in their entry level cars. On second thought, considering that Audi had some consumer issues with early iterations of their MMI system, some folks hate Cadillac’s CUE interface, and Jaguar’s touchscreens’ slow response became a cliche for car reviewers, smartphone or tablet based “infotainment” systems may not be restricted to just the low end of the market.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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47 Comments on “Is This The Future of In-Car Infotainment? Continental’s Flexible Smartphone Docking Station...”


  • avatar
    carguy

    Since the “somebody shoved an iPad into my dash” look is all the rage with auto makers these days we may as well move to a BYO tech model. At least you choose your own flavor, upgrade it easily and don’t have to pay for it in a overpriced “technology” package.

    • 0 avatar

      I wrote about the technical concepts behind BYO tech a bit back:

      http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/apples-car-play-smartphones-and-the-future-of-car-shopping/#comment-2895473

      As mentioned the problem isn’t so much the implementation which should be within reach of any major tech company but the politics of the auto industry embracing it.


      That said, the current demos by Goog/Apple seem to show something simpler than a synced solution. It’s unclear whether this was done on purpose to ease integration.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      You mean the look wherein the automaker has the infotainment screen literally sticking up from the dashboard? Even the retractable units from Audi and Volvo don’t quite look that way. I think it’s just BMW you’re describing. But BMW usually sets design trends. They were the ones who first did “infotainment” in the first place, and they were also the first ones to have the screen cocooned at the top of the dash (a technique that the majority of the automakers have since adopted) rather than having it stuck onto the car’s head unit.

      EDIT: I forgot about the Mercedes-Benz CLA and the Audi A3. Maybe you’re right…

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      I have some firsthand experience talking to auto types about this, going back to the “miniature server rack in the center console” days.

      The general answer is, OK, as long as all you want to show on the display is “infotainment” stuff, and it’s read only access to all of the vehicle’s functionality. Once you can turn on or off airbags, stability control, and even windshield vipers and defrosters; no way in H….. will they let a BYO anything come between them and your finger presses….

  • avatar
    kvndoom

    This or Mirrorlink (which just mirrors your phone / tablet’s screen) will likely be the future of most cars. People don’t care about car audio. Throw Walmart-grade speakers in the door, and put a recognizable whored-out brand name on the emblem (cough bose cough) and most buyers will swear it’s the best thing they’ve ever heard.

    So if the radio doesn’t matter, and i-whatevers are all the rage, why not just delete the radio altogether and let the phone do it all?

    The beauty of it will be manufactuers charging MORE for this “feature” than an actual radio in the dash. ;)

  • avatar

    SD CARD slot
    USB 3.0 slot with charging abilities
    Auxiliary 3.5″ jack
    Bluetooth A2DP.

    You really don’t need much more than that.

    I just got off the phone with Sirius XM a few hours ago.
    I cancelled the Jeep’s radio subscription despite “VISHNU’S” attempts to keep me on for both the Jeep and my iPhone.

    My reasoning:

    #1 The cellular service is so much stronger than the Jeeps that it NEVER cuts out when I pass under bridges – and even when I’m in tunnels the buffered data is long enough to get me from NY to NJ without cutting out as well. OR the software simply replaces the last song.

    #2 Why should I pay you extra to use the smartphone/internet app and the Jeep’s radio? That’s STUPID. I don’t have to pay Yahoo mail to log on as many times as I want on any computer/smartphone I want right?

    #3 Why is there “basic” XM service and “premium” when the only channels I’m listening to are OCTANE, Hip Hop Nation and Opie & Anthony???

    Why can’t I pay for this a-la-carte???

    Sorry Vishnu…take it off.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      I’d add wireless charging like Qi as well. I have it on my phone and it’s so nice to initiate charging without having to bother plugging the thing in.

      • 0 avatar

        wireless charging doesn’t make as much sense to me as wired charging which is faster and also links the car directly to the phone without the latency and signal degradation of Bluetooth audio

        • 0 avatar
          mcs

          I agree the wired interface should stay there, but the option for wireless would be nice. It’s already in some phone mounts. Also, bluetooth 3.0 and 4.0 are 24 mbit, so there should not be the latency you get with the older versions. My current phone has Bluetooth 4.0, so the new versions of BT are out there.

      • 0 avatar
        WheelMcCoy

        Qi won’t work for me either. I have a vent mount for my phone in order to see nav and traffic. Qi requires close proximity or physical contact to charge, and the models I’ve seen are pads down below the center stack.

        Edit: Ah, I see you meant to have Qi incorporated into the flexible mount. Yes, that would be handy.

    • 0 avatar
      jpolicke

      I’ll stick with Sirius for entertainment. My phone has all kinds of options for entertainment, but would require a much more expensive data plan. The lifetime plan I have for satellite service is the way to go for a car I intend to hold on to.

      What I did drop after the free intro year was the traffic information service. In the “NY Metro Area” they do a great job keeping me informed about every stinking foot path in New Jersey, but if there’s anything happening in Nassau and Suffolk counties, (the non-NYC part of Long Island), I’ll read about it in the paper before they update their information.

      And while I’m on the subject: Hey Chrysler, how come I can buy a GPS for $150 that displays traffic information, but to get it on my Uconnect GPS I need to pay by the month for the service?

    • 0 avatar
      VenomV12

      Meh, I pay $20 for 5 months of Sirus/XM on each of my cars for all the channels and the data so I am good and very happy with them, can’t beat that deal.

      Considering you are a black dude, I am not sure what your point is by repeatedly stating that the representative’s name was Vishnu. Some might say you were subtly being racist.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      @Bigtrucksreview
      “SD CARD slot
      USB 3.0 slot with charging abilities
      Auxiliary 3.5″ jack
      Bluetooth A2DP.”

      Don’t most every car come with that nowadays? Maybe except for the SD.

      At Christmas we were going from NJ to NY on the George Washington Bridge and on the bottom, reception was very poor, even our GPS dropped out, with the cell phone.

      What a pitiful crossing that one is, it took 45 minutes to cross the Hudson! I thought Sydney had some poor planning or a lack of money for infrastructure.

    • 0 avatar
      Xeranar

      Why can’t you buy it ala carte? Because then half of the channels would evaporate as the pop channels, a few rock channels, and some hip hop channels would survive. Even then at a little over 15 dollars a month for an in-car subscription you’re given access to the internet side which if you invested in a nice independent home unit can be a great boon.

      As for it cutting out, I think the only time it tends to do that is if I get under an overhang at a drive thru where the angle blocks the reception. Otherwise it basically never cuts out.

      Total aside, that person is a person and being upset that they don’t share your culture is at the very least uncouth. They in turn think your name is odd but don’t make a big deal out of it…

  • avatar

    Considering the average Android phone nowadays is larger than the average car’s infotainment display, it would make more sense to use your Note or iPad Mini as your nav system and media library.

    But how exactly would you see the rear view camera?

    • 0 avatar
      360joules

      Get a car with a bigger rear window (yeah, I know that’s a rare find these days).

    • 0 avatar
      WheelMcCoy

      There are wireless cameras that can conceivable talk to your iPad via an app. True, it won’t know to activate when you go into reverse; you’ll have to do that manually. But that has an advantage of seeing who’s tailgating you while going forward. :)

  • avatar

    Let me segue to the SYNC/MYFORDTOUCH deal…

    In my experience dealing with a multitude of late-model FoMoCo products in our inventory, I have had absolutely ZERO problems with SYNC and a handful of problems with MyFordTouch, mostly a problem with the APIM.

    Is that what all the fuss is about? CR/JD Power rankings? MFT going out because of the APIM?

    I’m seriously asking because the Bluetooth integration aspect of SYNC unto itself seems so dreadfully simple that if you can’t get it to work, you should probably take yourself out behind the woodshed and unload a magazine into your own brain.

    • 0 avatar
      Hummer

      I have absolutely 0 problems with my 6-disk CD factory radio headunit. And if I do, a new one is $180.

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      Once you understand the syntax and order of preference in commands (phone and radio parse directly: nav and climate are prefaced by specifying ‘navigation’ or ‘climate’) it’s a simple matter of speaking clearly to activate each system – but Ford still hasn’t put voice control of seat A/C or the midrow climate console into the system, which is a glaring oversight.

      • 0 avatar

        I agree the the command library skimps on some commands you would think it should have and I also agree with the simplicity of use. As said, I just don’t understand the interface problem everyone (meaning journos) have with it. I taught an 89 year-old ex-Corsair pilot how to use it on an ’11 MKZ they bought from me, so I can’t fathom how a 25 year old can’t learn it – unless they’re trying to crash it or find something to whine about.

    • 0 avatar
      VCplayer

      I’m going to agree with you about Sync/MFT. I DON’t own a Ford right now, but the handful I’ve been in with MFT have done everything I needed them to do with zero fuss. Are reviewers intentionally trying to freeze the system up/ cause bugs? There’s a place for that, but in day to day use I’ve never had a problem with MFT.

      • 0 avatar
        Felis Concolor

        I do intend to make Sync/MFT choke once I finish a massive no-loss ripping of my music library to a 2TB WD Passport on a FAT32 partition. I figure if it can index that, I have nothing to complain about.

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    Having recently lost my BT headset’s push-to-call function to Google’s hijacking voice commands with its Google Now forceware, I take issue with the statement “why does my car need to duplicate the more up-to-date services that my smartphone provides?” In my phone’s case, up-to-date does not equate to improved or increased functionality.

    A full jailbreak and proper submission of my smartphone’s software to what really matters looms in the future. That, or at least a vanilla Android dev system without a carrier’s crapware taking up my valuable storage space.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      You should be able to shut off Google Now. I have the option in my “Google Settings” menu under “Search and Now.”

      • 0 avatar
        Felis Concolor

        I have removed it twice already but it tries to reinstall as an update and I haven’t figured out how to shut down that particular function. At least I learned where to go for the switch, so it’s just become another step after turning off the morning alarm function once I get out of bed.

        • 0 avatar
          mcs

          Here’s a link – you should be able to disable it. Mine even has the ability to enable/disable BT headphone command recognition. I’m also running KitKat, so maybe other versions don’t have the ability. Then again, I do have a a carrier free unlocked phone.

          https://support.google.com/websearch/answer/2824784?hl=en

  • avatar
    modemjunki

    There was a successful Kickstarter for a double-din phone dock. This would allow retrofit to any car that can host a two DIN size unit, which I think is a shrinking market in North America…

    https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/devium/dash-the-smart-phone-car-stereo?ref=live

    http://www.devium.com/

  • avatar
    patman

    The future should be that the car provides a screen, hard controls and steering wheel controls and provides an interface to your phone, letting it know what size get screen is and what buttons, controls and touch capabilities are available. The in car system can handle AM/FM, aux input, USB and CD and leave everything else up to your phone with the car providing the display and inputs. It could fall back to its own satnav and Bluetooth phone pairing for older incompatible phones or people without smartphones. So, sort of like Apple’s carplay but with a universal, device agnostic interface. Apps would have to be rewritten to output to screens of various dimensions, orientations and aspect ratios and to map physical buttons in the car to clicks on the screen but that’s already happening to some degree – my new radio has thumbs up&down buttons for Pandora in addition to the normal next/previous track and pause/play buttons.

    You should never have to take your phone out of your pocket unless you want to charge it.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      For the nav, that could be a dealer-installed accessory. On new Hondas, it’s just another module behind the dash and a slightly larger, higher-res screen out-front. (Which they charge over $1K for, as some complain.) The all-in-one, integrated look is better than things hanging off the dash or windshield, and if you can replicate some of that functionality without having to have leather seats and all the extras, why not do so? (As long as the software on the car-side can be upgraded seamlessly; Honda brings out a CIVIC with better connectivity than their flagship Accord with the ’14s. Tell me, Honda, where is that upgrade for 2013s and 2014s? ;-) )

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    AutoLinQ™Mobile – reaction from a die-hard Android user who refuses to give the Cult of Apple one dime…

    SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!

    http://tinyurl.com/lo4e6hc

  • avatar
    Ion

    I wouldn’t exactly call Sync a misstep, myfordtouch yes but not sync.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    This is really great, connectivity. Has anyone thought of security? Could be a big market in software development preventing a ‘car virus’.

    Create a virus with a long incubation period, ring a friend and in 6 months millions of phones are infected and you cars are infected.

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    Infotaiment is the biggest scam in auto option pricing. One of my car pool riders bought a used 2010 Chryco minivans from Enterprise. It came with infotainment and sat nav. It did not have mobile phone connectivity which his wife desired more than a healthy mental state would allow.
    When he enquired about the cost to add Bluetooth software, he was quoted $800. This is probably a 15 minute procedure at the dealership. For that kind of money, I would expect not only the software, but also someone to attaché their mouth to a certain male appendage for two weeks solid!
    Enough said. Good luck aftermarket. I’m with you.

  • avatar
    wmba

    Good to see that driving is getting to be a secondary thing to do while you are performing something really important, like farting around with your precious phone. The human race continues to show its darwinian proclivities.

    • 0 avatar
      VenomV12

      That statement would only be true if driving death tolls were rising, are they?

    • 0 avatar

      > Good to see that driving is getting to be a secondary thing to do while you are performing something really important, like farting around with your precious phone. The human race continues to show its darwinian proclivities.

      I hear these dumbasses also invented ‘puters that tell you where to go while you drive. It’s a goddamn miracle they’re not all dead already.

  • avatar
    threeer

    Driving cars to you know, get somewhere, is just so passe! If it doesn’t have a thousand buttons and connects to the Space Station, then nobody (apparently) wants it. I guess that’s why I get funny stares when I say I want a Wrangler with nothing more than A/C as an option (not that I can actually do that).

    And BTW, I usually listen to SWR3 on my internet radio, not Bayern3, even if I’m not driving a Fiat 500!

    Oh, and Ronnie, what is your take on the Elio? I’ve been following it now for some time with mild interest…

  • avatar
    Xeranar

    I’m seeing a general trend here that I agree with. The most realistic answer is that we’re going to see phone pairing become the standard with a simple ARM chip driving the pairing and a sizable HDD for storing music because while our phones are practical long car trips eating up battery life is not.

    The worst part of this whole argument is that in practical terms the components of most phones range between 50-200 USD with the screens eating up most of the cost. So if every 18 months to 2 years I could go into the dealership for 250-350 and swap out the old unit for a new one by simply having them pull a box from behind the screen and attach a new one I would be game to possibly do so. But I think I’m part of a slim group who don’t mind upgrades in that vein.

    • 0 avatar

      > So if every 18 months to 2 years I could go into the dealership for 250-350 and swap out the old unit for a new one by simply having them pull a box from behind the screen and attach a new one I would be game to possibly do so.

      If the car electronics oems were even marginally competent they’d prolly already done so. The current setups price out at like 2k and will become horribly dated in 10 years.

      OTOH, the electronics are the new differentiators for manufacturer competing in a space where even the bottom players are making competent mechanicals.

  • avatar
    Driver7

    Two questions:
    Is it reasonable and/or feasible to create a “car mode” for mobile phones, which allows users to tap but *not* type characters (and hence prevent texting while connected)?
    Would there be a market for adapters with a “gooseneck”* connection that would allow the phone to be positioned closer to the driver or passenger?
    * Like the 1980s-era Blaupunkt Berlin 8000 radio pictured here:
    http://forums.pelicanparts.com/uploads8/c125+radio+remote1149359453.jpg


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