In one of the more intriguingly wrong-headed announcements to come from the ever-wishful marketers exhibiting at this year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Ford CEO Allan Mulally said that its dashboard electronics will soon let consumers add applications and features similarly to how Apple users customize their iPhones.
Only nobody can turn an iPhone into a car.
Ford's in-vehicle electronics and communications system is called Sync, and it was launched 18 months ago to offer voice-activation for certain entertainment controls (music, phone). The future plans are far more robust, however, involving access to real-time traffic and sports reports, not to mention a digital avatar, or character that would appear on the dashboard as the literal face of Internet searches.
Many of these functions would be developed by interested third-parties, and distributed on a platform like iTunes' App Store, so a consumer could personalize his or her vehicle's entertainment technology with the click of a button.
I think this stuff is utterly wacky.
As far as communicating goes, people have relationships with their cars that make even some bad marriages seem like the picture of openness and trust. Few people know how to "read" the nearly infinite number (and combination) of noises and performance cues that issue from. Equally complex is the minute-to-minute engagement vehicles have with the world around them: road conditions, directions, fuel efficiency, safety (as in how other vehicles, and their drivers, are performing).
So why not create the technology and intelligence to explore this inner world, and make it accessible to drivers? Doing an Internet search for a sports score or restaurant recommendation can wait, or already be handled by somebody's cell phone, couldn't it?
I wonder if anybody really feels the need to turn their car or SUV into a glorified Internet entertainment appliance. But imagine if your car could instead:
- Analyze a driving habits of the car behind you, and suggest that you change lanes and put some space between you?
- Let you know that some hose or chip is about to fail, in real-time, so you're not surprised while driving?
- Told you how to adapt your driving habits based on weather conditions, so you maximize safety and fuel efficiency?
- Adjust mirrors and other sensors, and/or told you why?
Where's the HAL9000 when you need him?