February 20, 2013
Five days a week I drive to work in the same car I have owned since mid-2006. As time goes by, what seemed like good features now are seeming more like things that should be as standard as wheels.
I bought a new 2007 Toyota Camry LE back then. The entire Camry line had been renovated with a new style, and it was definitely a nice car back then. My mom bought a Toyota Avalon -- Toyota's luxury class sedan compared to the Camry in the large class -- less than a year earlier, and I still liked my car better despite the lack of built-in GPS and fancy heated and cooled seats.
I'm not saying those seats aren't awesome. I just thought the Camry was more me.
So I came across this article on CNET late Tuesday -- CNET: Six tech features that should be standard in every new car -- and it got me thinking even more about some upgrades I would like to make. Or maybe even things I would like to see when I'm shopping for my next car. I'm hoping that date is a decade away, so I'm all about upgrades.
Since my iPhone rarely leaves my hip, I have been looking at some better ways to integrate what most smartphones can do into what most cars can do. I have the Camry factory audio system, which at least looks fancy but is still a factory unit. When the iPad mini was unveiled last year, it took about a week before I found a video of some car shop that rigged up a Toyota Corolla with an iPad mini to control a lot of the audio features.
Just take my money!
In short, that's what I wish every car had -- something as powerful as a tablet computer to do just about anything you wanted. With my iPhone, I listen to music, play podcasts, get navigation directions, find local businesses, keep track of fuel mileage, etc. etc. It's all using a touchscreen device that you can sync with a computer or cloud storage to back up your files or export some of them to other applications.
If you find a car with some sort of computer system in it, you will be lucky for it to adhere to any kind of standard. Toyota will do its own thing, Ford will go another direction, GM will go yet another. At least with our tablets and smartphones, developers will lean toward such things as exporting data into a spreadsheet, comma-separated value or XML file. Since these are fairly standard, you can import them into a variety of applications that adhere to that same standard.
Same thing goes with audio input. My mom's car had no auxiliary input device for her sound system. My car has a 3.5 mm jack, the same as most headphone outputs on a variety of audio devices. Some cars now add a USB port, which is becoming the mother of all digital standards. Bluetooth keeps making its way into many models, and I have seen a system or two that fake a WiFi network.
It really shouldn't be this difficult.
The CNet article mentions a lot of good items that really need to be standard in any car built today. USB ports all over the place is chief among them. Considering the fact that almost every portable electronic will go from one kind of port to a standard USB port, this means everybody could juice up devices from their seat instead of running cords and adapters from what used to be known as cigarette lighters. Trust me, putting in about 10 ports all around the car would be nothing in the grand scheme of a $20,000 vehicle.
Rear-view cameras are also great and could save numerous lives. But cameras facing forward and with DVR technology could also help save lives and cut down on insurance fraud. Someone backed into my car while I was stopped at a red light about three years ago. When the cops came, he lied his backside off and said I hit him. I was behind him, so I got a ticket. No evidence whatsoever that it was my fault and I get an $80 ticket plus the bill for repair.
The meteorite explosion in Russia showed off a lot of Russians with dashboard cameras. Apparently fraud is so rampant in Russia that it's a no-brainer investment. I have looked up some on Amazon, and it looks like you can get a unit with cameras that face front and back for about $80. If that had been installed in my car, it would've paid for itself. If I had these items when I was involved in a hit-and-run, I wouldn't have had to chase the guy down at crazy speeds just to get his tag. When you drive a four-cylinder car, it's tough to catch a guy who is willing to run stop signs.
But what could really make our cars better would be to get rid of a huge panel of switches, knobs and buttons.
My car is relatively clean compared to some consoles I have seen. But still, it's a lot of buttons for not a lot of functionality. Plus it has a CD player. Yuck.
Automakers need to make the realization that mobile device and tablet makers have realized for about the past five years: physical buttons are on the way out. With the console I just showed you, the controls are limited to those buttons. However, run everything electronic into a central computer and the options are as numerous as software upgrades. Plus the manufacturer could develop something like extremely large buttons on a touchscreen display so you have the option of just volume, temperature and fan speed while driving.
I know a lot of this seems costly, and half of it is probably more of the "want" than "need" variety. But as that CNet article mentioned, seat belts, anti-lock brakes and air bags also used to be costly options. Now you can't find a car without them. Considering the fact that we pay upward of $20,000 for most new cars, you think manufacturers could get behind some of these features. Some of them pay for themselves, and others may end up saving your life.
Plus we all love good tunes, right?