We're all walking around hyper-connected with all sorts of gizmos -- namely, smartphones -- with all sorts of bells, whistles, and life-tracking apps. Why shouldn't your car be part of that mobile-life experience?
That's what carmakers and consortia, such as Car Connectivity Consortium (CCC), are wondering, and what's making their collective presence more noteworthy these last couple years at traditional mobile phone events.
As this TechHive article notes, last month's Mobile World Congress -- a massive headliner event for global mobile operators, device makers, and service providers -- is becoming as good as any place to showcase how smartphone technology is increasingly dialed into auto circles.
There were executive keynotes, with the likes of General Motors vice chairman Steve Girsky talking about 4G LTE connectivity being be built into vehicles as early as next year. (See: MWC: Mobile's Next Wave of Vertical Disruption.) And there was news about Ford partnering with Spotify to have voice-controlled, on-demand music linked to its SYNC AppLink-connected vehicles, making it the second year in a row that Ford has used the venue to highlight its connected car concept.
Truly mobile phone
There were ads, too, teasing up the obvious mobility links. Audi's big splash banner hanging in one of the exhibition center's hallways played to that point: "The Audi A3 Sportback: The world's biggest smartphone."
Down in the app developer hall, CCC, founded in 2011 and dedicated to developing global standards for smartphone in-car connectivity, made a debut appearance at the congress this year and showed off MirrorLink, its non-proprietary technology. MirrorLink allows consumers to access their phones using the same controls they use for accessing the car's radio, climate control, and navigation system, according to the CCC. Things like standard USB plug-ins to connect the phone to the vehicle's infotainment system, dashboard knobs or touch screens, or steering wheel buttons means less fiddling with devices on the road.
MirrorLink Technology allows consumers to access their phone using the same
controls they use for accessing the car radio, climate control and navigation system.
Said Mika Rytkonen, CCC's chairman and president:
The car is the last place where people are unconnected. But, people want to be connected in their cars. They want to talk to their friends or listen to music from their smartphones. Giving out bigger tickets or imposing bigger fines won't change people's behavior. What we need to do instead is to focus on creating safety guidelines and developing technology that allows people to use their phones in their cars in a safe way.
Of course, cars will be connected, and as we're seeing with PCs, there will be an increased slant towards "mobile first" design features embedded in dashboards and vehicles coming off factory lines.
And, yes, there is inherent value in this connectivity. All sorts of traffic and emergency management activities down to routine car maintenance tasks could benefit from in-car mobile connectivity, not to mention the ease-of-use and convenience many people would enjoy by having their cars and smartphones (and homes) integrated more seamlessly.
But there's still much work to be done. Data security, privacy issues, and international road-device safety standards are among the biggest concerns needing much deeper review. And what about signal and roadside connectivity infrastructure and related investment? Are there going to be dead zones and a repeat of that famous line from Verizon commercials, "Can you hear me now?"
Then again, if we're all going to be in a mobile hotspot speeding along at 70 miles an hour, listening to Spotify music or streaming Internet video while calling your office, maybe the real question has more to do with how many things a human can effectively do at the same time and less about the technology that enables this behavior. Technology is never really the issue. Human behavior is.