Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Smartphone-Linked Car Nav: The Hybrid Approach

Car manufacturers have finally caught on to the fact that we don't want their crappy home-grown infotainment UIs and we just want to see what's on our phone screen on the nice big screen in the dashboard.

A couple of initiatives in this direction include Pioneer's AppRadio and the MirrorLink Consortium. Chevy's well-regarded MyLink system, found in the Sonic and Spark, uses a smartphone as the brains behind a lot of its functionality, but still uses its own UI to present content.

Things I hate about everything I've seen so far:

  • Limited phone compatibility. It only works with iPhones or it only works with select Android devices or it doesn't work with the latest version of anything.
  • Limited app selection. Hundreds of thousands of apps? Try a handful. Instead of using the perfectly wonderful built-in Android navigation, I have to use CrappyNav2000 and pay $50/year for the privilege of doing so. No thanks.
  • Slow progress. As usual, the automakers and car stereo makers are taking forever to put together something decent. The closest I've seen to what I want is the Mp3car Mimics. Basically, it mirrors whatever's on your phone on a nice big touchscreen in your dash. However, it's only for jailbroken iPhones (goodbye 99% of iPhone owners) and is, in their words, a "hobbyist grade product." They are also working on an Android version. Props to them and other adventurous individuals who are pushing the envelope.

I think the Mp3 car guys are taking the right approach, but they're limited by their size and resources. Here's what I want in my next car stereo:

  • A nice big touchscreen
  • An HDMI input for phones that support mirroring over HDMI. There are a decent number of Android devices that already do this via MHL. Some other ones also allow HDMI input, but may only mirror in certain apps. You can also buy overpriced HDMI adapters for the iPhone 4 and iPhone 5. Note to Apple, Samsung, et al: All your phones from now until forever should support HDMI mirroring.
  • Multitouch input. This is the hardest part and probably what the Mp3car folks are struggling with. You can simulate single-point input on the touchscreen by essentially treating it like a Bluetooth mouse, an approach that works with Android devices and jailbroken iPhones. (Regular iPhones don't support Bluetooth mice. Apple, get on it.) But I want to be able to use all the multitouch gestures you can use on the phone itself. Somebody smart, figure this out.
If you look at what I specced out above, the component costs shouldn't be much. The cost is in the software development and compatibility testing. But I want it...now.

Did I miss anything important? Put it in the comments.

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