VW's use of Terminal ModeEnlarge Photo
New technology is exciting, but like most exciting things it's also fraught with peril -- and that's doubly true for developers. Think of all the tsoris caused by the great VHS vs. Beta battles of the 1980s, or the far more recent Blu-ray vs. HD DVD war, both of which cost manufacturers billions of dollars and left consumers holding heaps of obsolete devices. The next great battleground is shaping up to be your car's dashboard, but a new consortium of automakers hopes to nip conflict in the bud by setting early standards, which could save headaches -- and lives -- down the road.
Here's the problem: automakers and app developers are building apps for cars, but the way in which drivers interact with those apps varies from model to model. For some, smartphones serve as an interface; for others, apps are loaded directly onto the telematics system. It's confusing, clunky, and very, very inefficient. The Car Connectivity Consortium thinks that consumers need a simple, consistent way to interact with apps in their vehicles, and they're pushing hard to make Terminal Mode the standard. The Consortium's founding members include a number of heavyweights like GM, Honda, Hyundai, Toyota, and Volkswagen.
WHAT'S TERMINAL MODE?
First glimpsed around the time of the 2010 Geneva Motor Show, the current iteration of Terminal Mode creates a link between a smartphone and a car's telematics system, replicating the phone's interface on the in-dash screen. Think of Terminal Mode like a mobile version of a website: sites that have been optimized for mobile devices (like this one) streamline the user experience for smaller screens. The bells and whistles you'd ordinarily find in the margin of a webpage are ditched, making navigation simpler and easier. Terminal Mode works similarly, weeding out apps that don't meet safety standards (most games, for example) and enlarging fonts to make things legible from the driver's seat.
If there's one thing we hate, it's inefficiency. Innovation is great, but to see dozens of teams working on competing app delivery systems that essentially offer the same features? That's frustrating. Why not give those brilliant minds a set of parameters in which to work, so they can focus their attention on things like building smarter, more intuitive apps to make driving safer, more fun, and more efficient?
We also like the idea of crafting a consistent, comprehensible interface for drivers, letting them know what's what, no matter what car they're driving. Consistency of driver experience -- just like the consistent placement of the gas pedal and brake pedal -- is great for safety.
Finally, Terminal Mode points to a future in which we might use smartphones instead of keys or fobs to open and start vehicles. That means one less thing to keep up with, which sounds great to us.
We applaud thoughtful integration of smartphone apps into telematics systems, but we have to wonder what the Consortium plans to do when there's no phone to interact with -- either because the driver uses a feature phone, an unsupported smartphone (e.g. Apple doesn't appear to be onboard with the project yet), or doesn't travel with a phone at all? Are they left without entertainment systems? Or do OEM satnav and stereo systems get standardized, too? In other words: Terminal Mode depends on the driver to bring a portion of the equipment herself, so what happens when that equipment's a no-show?
Since Nokia is a founding member and major tech force behind Terminal Mode, and since Nokia is dumping its own Symbian operating system in favor of Windows, this could be a major boost to Windows mobile adoption. That's especially good for Windows, which is lagging far, far behind Apple, Android, and Blackberry in the mobile field.