The center of your dashboard doesn't have anything to do with lap times or lateral g loads, but it is one of the most important parts of a new car--sports, luxury, or otherwise. Why? Because that's how you interact with most new vehicles. Now Apple wants to get in on the game. Directly.
Last year, Apple filed a patent for an in-car smartphone remote control device.
Now, Apple [NSDQ:AAPL] has filed a patent filed for a tactile-feedback touchscreen infotainment interface. As noted by Apple Insider, this system is intended to help drivers keep their eyes on the road by giving the normally featureless landscape of the flat touchscreen panel raised ridges, grooves, notches, and indentations--physically changing the shape of the surface to suit the on-screen controls.
This is a potentially ground breaking technology, not just in terms of the mechanism itself, but in the way we interact with cars--imagine the feel of real buttons, but in a compact panel that can reconfigure itself for a myriad of functions. The best of both worlds.
Naturally, smartphone integration and other functions are also built-in.
But this is Apple, not a major carmaker. It's not clear if, or how, this system will make its way into actual vehicles.
Apple's technological advancement also raises a question: should carmakers give up on the infotainment segment entirely?
The Car Connection's Richard Read asked that very question, and gave a compelling answer--one that doesn't support the carmakers. Consider his list of facts about cars, infotainment, and tech:
- The average car on the road is 11 years old. Consumers purchase new mobile phones every 18 - 24 months.
- We carry our mobile phones with us everywhere we go: to bed, to work, to the doctor's office, even to the can. We leave our cars parked in the driveway.
- Cars are items of convenience, getting us from Point A to Point B. Sometimes, we spend long hours in them on road trips, but those occasions are few and far between. On the other hand, we get nervous if we're more than five feet from our cell phones. They're not devices, they're appendages.
- We're using cars less. We're using cell phones more.
- Any 10-year-old can bang out an app, which can, in theory, become an overnight sensation, something we can't live without. Hundreds of thousands of apps litter app stores, with many more arriving each day. On the other hand, it takes a new car years to come to market.
- Upgrading software on your phone can be done anywhere, anytime: at a restaurant, at your desk, or even while you sleep. Updating software on your car, generally speaking, requires a trip to the dealership, or, at the very least, waiting for a jump drive to arrive in the mail, schlepping out to your car, plugging it in, and walking through the update.
The list is a litany of reasons tech companies should deal with infotainment in cars rather than the carmakers. It's also a fair argument for the built-in obsolescence of built-in infotainment--but leveraging smartphones as the horsepower for in-car entertainment has its own sets of strengths and weaknesses.
Read goes on to take a look at the future of infotainment and technology, but the only thing that's clear at this point is that the way forward remains unclear.
So we put the question to you: Should the car of the future rely on proprietary technology from the OEMs? Or would it make more sense to integrate systems developed by companies already proven in the mobile entertainment sector?