The car as a mobile device: The perks and pitfalls of increased car connectivity

2014 Hyundai Equus dashboard

What if your car was nothing more than a four-wheeled smartphone?

What if car companies spent as much time thinking about connectivity and apps as they do about horsepower and fuel economy? Making the car an extension of our online selves would add convenience, but it wouldn’t be without problems.

“It’s time for the car to be a social device,” Jim Farley, Ford’s executive VP of global marketing, sales, service, and the Lincoln brand, said during a press event at the 2013 New York Auto Show.

“Ford’s… ultimate goal is having a user’s data migrate seamlessly from their smartphone to their car.”

From Ford’s point of view, at least, integrating the driving experience with the mobile experience will make cars more relevant to consumers.

“You can have someone essentially take a car… and make it just for you,” K. Venkatesh Prasad, Ford’s in-car electronics czar, said.

Ford plans to do it with platforms like the developer-friendly OpenXC architecture, which could allow independent developers to create software and hardware that can interact with a car’s systems. Ford is already promoting this approach with its Developer Program and Personalized Fuel Efficiency App Challenge, which aim to encourage the development of apps for Ford vehicles.

Ford is also working on better integrating existing apps like Pandora and Spotify, with the ultimate goal of having a user’s data migrate seamlessly from their smartphone to their car.

So far, though, the car is far from being a mobile device. Ford’s MyFord Touch infotainment system has been panned and drivers risk distraction while behind the wheel as systems become more complex, feature-laden and interactive. Voice-operated systems are available and could be a partial answer to the problem of distracted driving but more development is needed.

Additionally, when voice activation systems cannot understand a request (or get it wrong), drivers can be distracted while working with car controls or their phones to fix the problem.

Noting that Ford spends a significant amount of resources on driver education, Farley said only drivers themselves can guarantee safety.

“I hope it’s the consumers choosing… and not being something that they’re told to do,” he said.

Brendan Kraham, mobile advertising sales manager for Google, suggested that predictive technologies could negate the need for consumers to pull out their phones while driving, because their cars could automatically access the phones and pull up the relevant data after the driver initially syncs the device.

Some newer in-car systems, such as Subaru’s Starlink and BMW’s iDrive systems, are implementing this concept now but for the most part the idea is still in it’s infancy and its not always easy for customers who are not especially tech-savvy to implement the technology.

Will an intuitive interface be as important as a comfortable seating position?

There’s also the possibility that drive time could become swamped with ads, certainly an essential part of any Google or Facebook experience, or that car and social media companies could use drivers’ data to track them. Again, companies say they are making it the consumer’s responsibility to use the tech in a positive way.

“It’s the user’s choice ultimately to make those decisions,” Kraham said, noting that Google allows users to opt-out of its current location-based ads.

Ford’s Farley said consumers would ultimately tell the companies when they want to see ads. He used Ford’s Mustang Customizer, a popular app that allows users to trick out a virtual Mustang, as an example. “In a way, it’s self-governing,” he said.

Will car customers of the future complain about lack of privacy in their own vehicles? Will an intuitive interface be as important as a comfortable seating position? That’s what car manufacturers and car buyers will have to figure out if the car really becomes a “mobile device.”

What’s your experience with in-car technology? What works? What drives you crazy? What features or automation would you like to see? Leave us a comment.


Can electric motors finally make three-wheeled cars great?

Every few years, someone tries to sell a three-wheeled vehicle to Americans. Historically, it hasn’t gone very well. We’ve got our suspicions about why people don’t buy trikes, and they boil down to this: a trike is just not a real…
Home Theater

Report: Spotify preparing to launch $100 in-car streaming device

According to a report, people familiar with Spotify's plans say the company is readying a dedicated in-car music streamer that will cost $100. It will work with any Bluetooth-enabled audio system and can be controlled by voice.

Lyft and Aptiv’s self-driving car program has come a long way (but not far enough)

Many companies talk about self-driving cars, but Lyft and Aptiv are already using a fleet of them to transport paying customers in Las Vegas. Hop in for a close look at the tech of autonomous cars, and the challenges they face.

Muscle cars, trucks, and EVs roared into the subdued 2019 Detroit Auto Show

The 2019 Detroit Auto Show was the quietest edition of the event in recent memory, but that doesn't mean nothing significant happened inside the Cobo Center. Here are the new cars and concepts we saw at the show.
Emerging Tech

Too buzzed to drive? Don’t worry — this autonomous car-bar will drive to you

It might just be the best or worst idea that we've ever heard: A self-driving robot bartender you can summon with an app, which promises to mix you the perfect drink wherever you happen to be.

Michigan OKs digital license plates with Rplate’s connected car platform

The state of Michigan approved the use of digital license plates on motor vehicles registered in the state. Reviver Auto, the manufacturer of the Rplate connected car platform, worked with Michigan's Department of State to pass the bill.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: camera with A.I. director, robot arm assistant

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!

This Chevy Silverado pickup truck is made from more than 300,000 Lego bricks

To promote The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, Lego and Chevrolet teamed up on a life-size replica of the automaker's Silverado pickup truck made from more than 300,000 plastic bricks.

Prices for using Tesla Supercharging just skyrocketed

Tesla is updating their Supercharging pricing based on local electricity rates and customer demand, which has lead to an increase in charging costs by as much as 33 percent in some regions.

Is Uber planning to put its self-driving tech into bikes and scooters?

Uber reportedly has its eye on building autonomous electric bikes and scooters that ride to a user when summoned by an app. The technology could also be used to make its two-wheelers safer with obstacle avoidance systems.

Someone just paid supercar money for the very first 2020 Toyota Supra

The 2020 Toyota Supra made its long-awaited debut at the 2019 Detroit Auto Show. The resurrected sports car, famous for a role in The Fast and the Furious, goes on sale in the U.S. this summer.

Lincoln’s stately, limited-edition flagship sedan sells out in a month

The 1961 Lincoln Continental became a design icon thanks to center-opening "coach doors" (also known as "suicide doors"). Lincoln is bringing those doors back for a special edition of the 2019 Continental.

Volkswagen is planning a tougher challenge for its all-electric I.D. R

The Volkswagen I.D. R electric race car will head to the Nürburgring for a lap-record attempt. Volkswagen will reportedly aim to set the quickest lap time ever by an electric car with the I.D. R.

Tesla given go-ahead to start deliveries of Model 3 to Europe

Tesla has been given the green light to start deliveries of its Model 3 electric sedan to Europe, giving it the chance to compete more effectively with the likes of BMW, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz in the region's premium car market.