New Dashboard Technology in Cars: What Does the Future Hold for The Connected Automobile?

by / Monday, 13 January 2014 / Published in Personal

With Barrett Jackson in town this week it made me start thinking about technology in cars. With the  level of penetration smart devices already have in our lives, it makes sense that the next frontier for these technologies will be the automobile. The reasoning behind this idea is simple: Americans love their cars. They also spend a lot of time behind the wheel—about 1.2 hours a day in total driving time, or 38 hours a year just spent sitting in traffic. The time they spend driving may be the only waking hours that the majority of consumers spend without ready access to smart technologies.

Of course, many people are already attempting to use their mobile devices while driving, and the results of this distracted driving are frequently disastrous. As a result, there is now a serious push from tech companies and their auto-making allies to find new—and safer—way to give drivers access to technology.

There are three main methods for putting smart technologies into car dashboards:

  • Embedding: As the name suggests, embedded technologies are included as part of the car itself. As car makers are finding out, embedding technology is usually the most expensive method of giving drivers access to dashboard technology. Another downside is that embedding requires owners to pay for technology that has little, if any, use outside of the car itself.
  • Tethering: Tethered cars have the ability to conduct computations using onboard systems, but must connect with external smart devices to get access to online data and resources.
  • Integration: Of the three methods of deploying dashboard technology, integration provides the most basic capabilities on the car side. Typically, the entire technology suite would be offered using an external device, while the car itself would only provide the driver with the means to control the technology.

The battle between Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android operating system has been raging in the mobile space for years, and 2014 looks to be the year it will spill over to the dashboard. Google announced its intention to get involved with dashboard technology by purchasing the navigation app Waze in 2013.

The company also announced at the Consumer Electronics Show that they would be making a version of the Android OS available for car manufacturers to use on dashboards. The first car to use the car version of Android, also released at CES 2014, was a new model from Audi that features a smart dashboard display that actually doubles as 10.2-inch screen tablet. The new smart display offers a number of different uses, including giving drivers complete control over their onboard entertainment system.

Apple has also announced an initiative called “iOS in the Car.” Honda is one of the car manufacturers currently working to make their dashboard systems integrate better with iOS devices.

As consumer tech companies begin to move into automobiles with integration and tethering, automakers are also rushing to embed the latest in consumer technologies to their dashboards. In particular, many of GM’s 2015 models will essentially be rolling 4G LTE hotspots with their own built-in app stores. As automakers struggle to find new ways to capture young drivers, many of them view a gadget-heavy experience like the one millennials enjoy outside of their cars as the key.

Unfortunately, this idea has so far failed to create the level of results automakers were looking for. This is likely due to one main reason: younger drivers are still very sensitive to price. While they may be willing to spend big money on tech, a new car that’s fully decked out with all the bells and whistles is usually thousands of dollars beyond the reach of drivers that are just starting out in their careers.

As a recent New York Times article suggests, many young people today seem perfectly content to settle for cheaper used cars that are devoid of smart technology. In the years to come, it will be interesting to see if embedding catches on more as today’s young drivers gain a firmer financial footing. Or, automakers may begin to move away from embedded technologies, and begin to focus more on cheaper solutions like integration and tethering, which allow drivers to take advantage of devices they already have. Only time will tell.