What shall I do with my iPod in the car?
Recently I was at a congress in Germany about advances in electronics of the car (the congress was in German and there is no English web page yet - see http://www.elektronik-tagung.de/mic/elekTagung2006/deutsch/ ). There was a really interesting session about consumer devices and their emerging into the car.
A standard mobile device that can be found in cars today is the mobile phone. Integration of this device into the navigation or infotainment system in the car is state of the art. There are standards around like Bluetooth which define the communication and data exchange between the mobile phone and the in-car device. By that, the in-car device can access the address book of the phone and can initiate or accept phone calls. Typically, the display of the mobile phone is not used in this scenario.
With the eclipse of MP3 and the Apple iPod as one of the most prominent devices in this area, a new kind of device became relevant for the car. Several car manufacturers do already support this device.
From a technical point of view, there are a couple of questions to solve. How to connect the device with the in-car navigation or infotainment system? USB? Bluetooth? Audio cable? What kind of device software is needed to access the data on the iPod? What about Digital Rights Management?
While this is being solved for one device like the iPod, a next generation device already comes up. Consumer device markets are evolving ultimately fast. Cycle times of half a year or even less are common. In contrast to the life time of a car which is in the range of a decade.
PDAs do have a big display. Modern mobile phones have got big displays as well. They can host a lot of applications and got quite huge memory. There are PDAs and mobile phones on the market that provide navigation. So can PDAs or mobile phones address the need to follow the fast cycles in consumer space? They can be easily replaced if a newer device with new functionality gets available on the market. However, their advantage of being mobile becomes a weakness when the enter the car. Where should I place the mobile device in the car? As driver, how can I read the display of the device without being distracted?
Placement is a problem that is easily overlooked. The mobile device should be placed securely. Nevertheless, its display should be readable without looking away too far from the street. There should also be power supply from the car for the device. And connectivity with the car may require additional cabling. These cables must not disturb the driver during his main task (no -- I do not mean looking at the mobile device's display here).
It was discussed at the congress that car manufacturers are responsible for the security of the cars they produce and therefore put great emphasis on preventing driver distraction. Many active and passive means have been developed and integrated into the car over the past years to increase security of the passengers in the car. Airbag and ABS are just a few examples for this. By those means injuries and death from road traffic could be lowered significantly. It must be prevented that new devices like infotainment create new risks and increase those numbers again.
Limiting driver distraction is guideline for the car manufacturers in the design of the man machine interface of an in-car infotainment system as it is for all kinds of handles in the car. However, PDAs and mobile phones are designed with other goals in mind. Attracting the potential buyer in a highly competitive space requires puts a different focus onto the design of those devices.
Clearly there will be mobile devices It will be interesting to see how the car manufacturers and their suppliers will solve these questions in the next generations of their infotainment systems.