By on December 30, 2016

Volvo 90 center display

A few years after Alexander Graham Bell beat Elisha Gray in patenting the telephone, someone conceptualized the telephonoscope and the world became bedeviled by the notion of seeing someone while you conversed remotely. Video phones appeared in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927), Jay Roach’s timeless classic Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997), and just about everywhere in between. They even cropped up in real life. AT&T tested the waters in the 1920s by pairing mechanical television receivers to telephones before blowing half a billion dollars on the Picturephone a few decades later.

Things are different today. You can easily bring up any number of applications on your hand-held device and video chat with people from practically anywhere on the planet. However, we never really got a dedicated video phone in our cars, creating a compellingly retro-futuristic need for such a thing.

Then Volvo announced that it was adding Skype for Business to its 90 Series cars and I began imagining a universe where I would notify besuited men — face-to-face — that I did not have anymore time to talk because I was much too busy driving. It was a perfect fantasy where I told nervous industrialists which robots should build the smaller robots and who to fire all from the comfort of my mobile office — and while looking them right in their terrified eyes.

I was setting myself up for some supreme disappointment.

In the announcement, Volvo’s Vice President of Consumer Connectivity Services, Anders Tylman-Mikiewicz, explained that the partnership with Microsoft not only resulted in the inclusion of Skype but also Cortana — the company’s intelligent personal assistant. This means you can schedule your calendar and issue commands simply by using your voice.

“We’ve all been there. Sitting in the car trying to join a conference call. You either fumble with or drop your phone while trying to connect or you forget the long pin code to join. It’s not the best way to start an important call in the car. On top of all that your attention is not where it should be — on the road. With the addition of Skype for Business all that goes away,” said Anders Tylman-Mikiewicz.

I have been there on a singular occasion. It’s as if Anders was speaking directly to me about problems I was just realizing were ruining my life.

“Skype for Business represents another big step forward for our in-car connectivity and communication offer,” Tylman-Mikiewicz continued. “With the dawn of autonomous cars we see a future where flexible in-car productivity tools will enable people to reduce time spent in the office.”

That’s perfect for me, because a big step forward is exactly what I’m looking for. Midsize luxury cars aren’t always the most exciting so this is the kind of shot in the arm that is sorely needed. Plus, who wants to spend more time in the office when they can video chat from inside their own car? Nobody.

It sounded like a perfect universe. However, as things progressed, I noticed there wasn’t an abundance of talk about the video capabilities of the app or the in-car camera. In fact, Volvo entirely glossed over those elements, and I became lightly worried. Assuming they might have forgotten, I reached out to Volvo’s media team for clarification on the incredible video technology they were including in the S90 sedan, V90 wagon, and XC90 SUV.

A spokesperson answered my queries with, “No video-to-video, audio only.”

I felt like an imbecile. How could I possibly have thought they would include video conferencing? The spokesperson said the Skype app had been adapted to a driving context, and of course it would be. No sane company would give someone operating a vehicle such an enticing diversion from the road ahead. Volvo could probably have easily included screen-sharing and crisp picture quality, but didn’t want to face an onslaught of lawsuits from distracted drivers and the families of their victims.

Although, what is Volvo really offering, then? A more seamless way to dial into a conference call and a digital assistant that you probably already have access to via your smart phone? As foolish of me as it was to assume there would be video, this all feels sort of like a tease. I could think of much stronger selling points for the company to brag about than upgraded audio conferencing and a calendar. Anyway, I can just duct tape my mobile device to the center console of any car, so this isn’t a gigantic problem.

[Image: Volvo]

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8 Comments on “I was an Idiot for Thinking Volvo Would Offer Video Chat While Driving...”

  • avatar

    Know what would be great to see in that Little Theater Screen (© Garfield Goose!)?

    The f*cking road ahead.

    Should be the unchangeable default whenever any vehicle motion is detected, rear view when backing up.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    “No sane company would give someone operating a vehicle such an enticing diversion from the road ahead. Volvo could probably have easily included screen-sharing and crisp picture quality, but didn’t want to face an onslaught of lawsuits from distracted drivers and the families of their victims.”

    Well, this is the automaker that volunteered to accept all responsibility for any crashes caused by its upcoming autonomous tech (Volvo’s lawyers probably earned some grey hairs after that), so your line of thinking wasn’t too far off.

  • avatar

    Matt, I can understand why you don’t think it’s useful.
    But if you spend a lot of time in conference calls while on the road, this is a big help.
    I spend a ton of time, everyday, on SfB conference calls. The idea that I might be able to just hit a single button or ask Cortana to join that meeting is a heck of a feature and I’d use it everyday.

  • avatar

    “Anyway, I can just duct tape my mobile device to the center console of any car”

    This is exactly what I do in my S80, slapping my Samsung to the dashboard with a magnetic mount. Android Auto is 1,000x better than what came with the car in 2012, and will continue to get better with each passing year.

    Why people want to lock in current technology with expensive in-dash NAV/com systems is a mystery to me.

  • avatar

    “in-car productivity tools will enable people to reduce time spent in the office…”

    No, it will make sure that go-getters can set an example for us all by being connected to their jobs in every waking moment. There will be a high price to pay for merely being an “average” worker – mainly not being a worker. The constant drumbeat for productivity and lowest-bidder mentality will eventually put us all on the dole, unless we can agree to pay a bit more for a bit less.

    • 0 avatar

      So totally Bingo!

      I’m fine with that and have long gotten stink-eye from my breeder coworkers who have the temerity to expect they can stay in the Norman Rockwell past of family-centrism and community cohesiveness.

      This is the central flaw in the Save the World mentality; the World will only grow up to take your resources, jobs and lifestyle when they can’t yet outright kill you.

      • 0 avatar

        The moral hazard: We use much more of the world’s resources per capita than almost any country, so our calls for slowing population growth (even though we have a negative fertility-rate growth) go unheeded.

        This dilemma will only get worse without some world-wide body that everyone will heed regarding this issue, but the UN is withering on the vine due to the upsurge in nationalism.

        It’s a mess that (unfortunately) has 2 cures – international cooperation or war (genocide, actually).

        • 0 avatar

          Actually, this “mess” of excess fertility is fixing itself. Nearly every country that has achieved developed world status now has negative fertility rate growth. Some have even gone too far, like Italy and Japan.

          All we need to do is continue to help developing nations (India and Africa especially) to grow economically, and their birth rate will slow naturally.

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