It’s been more than three decades since I took driver’s ed in a 1981 Honda Civic hatchback. In the intervening years, every segment of the car market has grown progressively larger, heavier and more powerful in response to tougher safety regulations and expanding customers. Last fall, Honda launched the ninth-generation Civic on an all-new global platform that was deemed worthy of being awarded the 2016 North American Car of the Year. After a short but impressive drive last fall, I recently got to spend a longer period of time living with the new Civic.
In my recent review of the Pioneer AVH-4100NEX car audio receiver with Apple Carplay and Android Auto, I lamented the fact that Pioneer was only offer the smartphone interfaces in its more high-end receivers. At $700, the 4100NEX is the most affordable receiver with this capability and includes a DVD drive and motorized face plate. It also has a tiny row of controls along the bottom edge for volume and mode selection.
I suggested that for people that want to use a smartphone interface, they are less likely to actually use disks or other media and Pioneer should offer a more basic unit with a fixed screen (not to mention a better display than the 4100NEX) and no disk drive.
It turns out they make just such a receiver. It even has a rotary volume knob! The problem is that consumers can’t actually buy this receiver. It’s found in the Scion FR-S that I’m driving this week. Of course Toyota isn’t yet supporting Android or Carplay so this unit doesn’t have that capability. However, if Pioneer would sell this head unit as a standalone with Android and Carplay for $200-250 I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it and I’d even buy one myself.
There are more than two billion smartphones in active use globally now with the vast majority of them running either Google’s Android or Apple’s iOS. People have access to all of the world’s information and entertainment almost anywhere they go and they’ve come to expect to be able to use it anytime they want, including in the car. Thus, 2014 brought the announcements of Apple Carplay and Android Auto.
When you stop to consider how complex the task of driving a vehicle actually is, it’s rather surprising that there aren’t a lot more accidents and fatalities than we already have. Despite this, we keep adding more things for the driver to do on the road and designers have struggled to find a way to integrate everything into the human machine interface (HMI). Having watched the struggles of automotive designers to develop a usable in-vehicle HMI, technology giants Apple and Google have now stepped into the breach with their own solutions to the problem in the form of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The week of January 7, 2007 was a hugely important preview of the future of cars and how we would interact them. In the span of three days, there were three major product announcements in three cities that all seemed distinct at the time but the convergence is now becoming clearer every day. The week kicked off with General Motors vice chairman Bob Lutz revealing the original Chevrolet Volt concept at the Detroit Auto Show. Later that same day, then future Ford CEO Mark Fields joined Microsoft CEO Bill Gates on stage at CES in Las Vegas to announce the SYNC connectivity system. Finally, two days later Apple CEO Steve Jobs showed the world the iPhone at Macworld Expo in San Francisco.
Each of those three products has evolved significantly in the last eight years and with each passing day we get closer to the fusion of them all, potentially in an Apple car. While that latter product is still likely years away from being announced, touchscreen smartphones are now ubiquitous with more than two billion in use around the world. They are so prevalent that we now expect to be able to use them anywhere and everywhere including behind the wheel. While plug-in vehicles currently represent only a tiny fraction of the world’s vehicle parc, they too will likely one day dominate and with the addition of autonomous capability our vehicles may well become nothing more than a place to consume content while being moved around.