Handheld and Mobile Tech in Our Cars: No Way Back


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Technology has found its way to sneak into our everyday lives. It all seemed simple enough when we first started seeing it. We used our phones in our cars, because it was convenient to make calls while on the road.

These things were furthered by the digital era. Music became available as non-physical media, and car stereos grew to accommodate that. Now it’s not uncommon to have some kind of a port that will allow you to connect a USB device and listen to any of the popular digital audio formats.

Now, it seems, mobile and handheld technology are working their way into our cars whether we want it or not.

Bringing Mobile Devices into the Car


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BMW Jumped in Early 

BMW was one of the first to get behind it and try to market the idea. This was years ago when the iPod was still monochrome. The idea of controlling your device via the steering wheel was beyond awesome, and truly helped enhance the safety of listening to your device in the car. Rather than having to look down at the small screen and play around with the scroll wheel, you simply controlled things without having to take your hands off the steering wheel.

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Third party manufacturers soon caught on to the popularity of such devices and started building their own ways to listen to your MP3 player in the car: Cables, holders, car chargers and even little FM transmitters that would tune into a “dead” station and let you listen to music with your car’s radio. They weren’t the most advanced technology, but they worked enough to let you listen to your music.


Better Technology was on the way

Thanks to advances in mobile systems such as iOS and newer ones like Android, there is far more that can be done with mobile tech. Mapping, GPS with turn-by-turn navigation, simplified controls help keep users’ eyes on the road and improvements in technology like Bluetooth, which helped prevent people from taking their hands off the wheel.

BMW has their bets placed on iOS. They are making cars with iPad docks and using device integration such as iPod Out, which was introduced with iOS4 and brings the iPod interface to the car’s display. Again, a safety feature meant to reduce the need for drives to fiddle around with their device while they try their best (sometimes unsuccessfully)  to avoid causing an accident.


Is it all about Phones and Mobile devices?

Of course not. Even OnStar, the subscription-based service focused on enhancing driving safety by introducing ways for drivers to carry out tasks such as driving to minimize distraction, has been looking at ways to allow users to do Facebook and Twitter updated while in their car by speaking aloud what they want their update to say.

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Some may argue about the safety of this, and whether or not it encourages drivers to do such things, but according to OnStar president Chris Preuss, their data is showing that there is no correlation between pushing a single button and vehicle crashes, and that people will keep doing things such as texting and Tweeting while driving, and he hopes to simply make it safer.

“I don’t think we’re at all engaging in activities that are going to make it worse. We’re absolutely engaging in activities that will make things better,” explains Preuss.

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This may have been the idea all along. Looking back at all the technologies that make it possible to incorporate technology into your car, they are meant to minimize distraction.

The Criticism

However, there has been criticism that takes the complete opposite stance to what Preuss has said. That is the Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who has expressed his disappointment in automakers for including such features.

At his second annual distracted driving summit, he said, “We are taking action on a number of fronts to address the epidemic of distracted driving in America.”

He explains that “We’ve seen news stories about carmakers adding technologies in vehicles that let drivers update Facebook, surt the web or do any number of things instead of driving safely…Features that pull drivers’ hands, eyes and attention away from the road are distractions. Period…let’s put safety before entertainment.” 

He noted that he plans on meeting with automakers to discuss and develop new safety guidelines for technology in vehicles.

As you can see there are two views: One saying entertainment such as Facebook and Twitter does not belong behind the wheel in any form. Another saying that users are doing it regardless, and that this may be the safest way around what is inevitable.

Where are we now? 

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It’s hard to say. Things are always changing, and it’s near impossible to keep up with all of them. What we do know is that GPS navigation systems are built into cars, with screens that provide backup cameras, methods of using popular consumer electronics are becoming the standard in a car’s list of features, and we are seeing more vehicles being sold on technology whether it’s out of convenience, safety or both. As these technologies become increasingly affordable, we will likely be seeing them more and more in our cars as standard features.

Like music, movie downloads are becoming more standard (though it seems to be a little slower than the digital music boom) and soon we will be consuming all kinds of media while on the road. Technology today now allows for two people to share a screen and see different images based on their viewing angle. It may seem silly right now, but we imagine that one day these systems–much like power steering and cruise control–will become a standard part of the car’s package rather than added bells and whistles. There’s no looking back.

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