Is the cost of in-car entertainment worth it?

February 13, 2014

Technology in cars is changing at a breakneck pace.  I recently upgraded my car from a 1999 to a 2011 model. Climbing into the driver’s seat, I felt like I was like sitting in the future.  This car has everything – USB and audio hookups, Bluetooth connectivity so I can receive phone calls without touching my phone, and a giant remote-plus-key that lets me roll down the windows from across the street.  Gone was the retractable antenna and cassette player of my old car: I am officially a member of the 21st century.

Then I watched a few advertisements for new model cars and I realized how far behind my “new” tech actually is.  Whether commuting, running errands or even joy-riding, people spend large portions of their lives in their cars, and automakers are trying to give drivers and passengers the comforts of home.  As technology advances, we are able to do everything from our car that we’d be able to do on our couch – all while moving up to 70 miles an hour.

The inclusion of an entertainment system in a car isn’t a new idea. Remember when you were a kid and you always wanted to carpool with Mrs. Thomas because her minivan had the built-in TVs?  That’s still an option on many models, but instead of a grainy TV monitor, backseat passengers have access to what is essentially a fully-functional tablet embedded behind Mom’s head.

What is new is the revamped concept of “infotainment” – entertainment and information rolled into one package.  Car makers are using our fascination with infotainment to enhance the time we spend in our cars, making our vehicles into a drivable extension of our phones and laptops.

What Car Makers Are Doing Now

In addition to the common features such as Bluetooth integration, XM or HD radio, and USB ports, many automakers are developing proprietary technology that integrates a variety of features directly into the cars.  If you’ve ever wanted to do something in your car, odds are someone has developed a way to make it happen smoothly.

Ford’s Sync allows voice-activated phone calls and MP3 play; upgrades include 3D maps, a second screen, and voice-activated climate control.

Kia’s UVO system allows voice control of the audio system, and access to a handful of other apps, including one that reminds you where you parked your car.

Audi puts all of the controls that aren’t directly related to driving on the center console, and a touch pad next to the gear shift doubles as a fingertip-writing pad, allowing drivers to use Google or input destinations with the ease of writing on a notepad.

BMW Connected Drive is an all-inclusive in-car technology hub that offers text-to-voice updates from Facebook to be read over your cars speaker system as well as detailed maintenance and performance information relating to your car. It was recently announced that BMW was looking into the possibility of serving ads to their drivers via this system based on their location and destination.

In addition to the entertainment features, automakers are including a Wi-Fi option on their new vehicles.  The onboard modem will ensure that you and your passengers are never without a viable internet connection.  This is beneficial because, in addition to nonstop connectivity for everybody in the car, it allows speedy downloading and updating of other onboard apps and software.   A mobile hotspot can also be the difference between getting help and being stranded if your car breaks down in a rural area.  Audi began rolling out a Wi-Fi plan in its 2013 models; Chrysler has been offering it as an aftermarket option since 2008.  Ford and GM are joining the movement with many of their 2014 models, and other brands will surely follow.

Is In-Car Entertainment a Good Idea?

On my daily commute in my shiny new-to-me car, I see countless people weaving, making abrupt turns or lane changes, and generally driving like they have no depth perception or spatial awareness.  Invariably, when I pull up alongside these vehicles, the driver’s eyes are on a cell phone, and not the road.  Nobody will disagree that distracted driving is a serious issue and the source of countless accidents and fatalities.  People want their iPod and phone and DVD player and Internet connection at their fingertips all the time, but just because people want something doesn’t mean they should get it.  As tech manufacturers flirt with the idea of integrating your Facebook and Twitter feeds into heads-up displays, driver distraction becomes much more likely.

New in-car technology is making driving safer, at the same time that it introduces entirely new risks.  No matter how advanced your car’s technology, the safest bet is always for the driver to focus on the road at all times. If you need to check for directions, or troubleshoot your car’s wifi connection, or update Twitter, your best bet should always be to pull over first.

Learn more about how car companies are trying to use technology to make you a safer driver


Car Technology Guide

Car technology is getting more advanced – it’s never been easier to get lost in your car console. We’re here to help. From bluetooth to wi-fi tethering, to carsharing schemes and even driverless cars – our Car Tech Guide will help you stay abreast of the latest developments happening in car technology.

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