EL SEGUNDO, CA — Media tablets like Apple Inc.’s iPad hold strong potential for use as rear-seat entertainment solutions in automotive infotainment systems, new IHS iSuppli (NYSE: IHS) research indicates.
The path for the wide usage of tablets in cars has been paved by smart phones, which have attained a key position in infotainment systems. With their extensive integration of multiple functions like global positioning system (GPS) and media players on top of their inherent connectivity—along with their popularity and portability—smart phones represent the preferential platform for car infotainment. Because of this, IHS does not believe the importance of smart phones in vehicles will diminish.
Nevertheless, one of main disadvantages smart phones have in cars is their screen size, which is not adequate for prolonged use for media consumption and content viewing. In the vehicle, both the driver and passengers are usually passive with regards to incoming data, meaning that they absorb and consume information and media, but do not create content.
“Tablets offer similar levels of integration as smart phones, while sporting a larger screen size more suitable for content and information consumption,” said Luca De Ambroggi, senior analyst for automotive infotainment at IHS. “This makes tablets an optimal solution for rear seat entertainment.”
Tablets for consumption
One of the key differences among PCs and media tablets is the fact that the media tablet’s main purpose is to communicate, browse, search and read information and enjoy media and social networks. Tablets are not intended for the creation of content.
Another feature that distinguishes tablets from other platforms is that tablets are essentially a screen, or a touch screen, to be more precise. This defining attribute, together with the absence of a keyboard, confirms the media tablet’s focus on content consumption rather than creation.
The aggressive competition among tablet makers has helped to foster improvements in the product.
The iPad 2 for example remedied some of the shortcomings of the first generation product. In the second generation, Apple has focused on offering a product with a reduced weight and a more comfortable size. The company also enhanced the product’s speed with dual core processors and graphics capabilities that are more suitable for the applications that this kind of device is targeting. Other new features include adding two cameras, which were missing in the first generation.
However, connectivity has not particularly improved since there is still no supporting USB host interface in the iPad 2. iPad competitors have offered differing approaches to connectivity, trying to take advantage of what might be considered a weak point for Apple. The newly announced Google Honeycomb based on Android 3.1 serves as an example of a tablet supporting USB hosting.
Not a sweet spot yet
Another shortcoming for tablets like the iPad is pricing. The cost of tablets still has not reached the sweet spot for wide proliferation in motor vehicles. Nevertheless, competition will push prices down in the near future. This will make tablets more attractive for use in cars.
The integration of tablets like the iPad into car infotainment systems will benefit car makers in terms of image and branding. Because of this, many companies already are offering applications for tablets and smart phones dedicated to the automotive segment. Location based services (LBS), maps, point of interest (POI), augmented reality and social networking service apps are already available. These have found a great opportunity to spread quickly, taking advantage of Internet access and communication capabilities from Wi-Fi to 2G, 3G or LTE technologies.