As amazing and technologically advanced as some in-car infotainment systems are, there’s one crucial problem with them: shelf life. By the time an infotainment system makes its way into a modern automobile, it’s outdated within a year. So what’s an automaker to do?
Incorporating tablets into modern day cars could completely change the automotive game by reducing infotainment development costs for automakers and reducing the weight and complexity of vehicles, potentially improving fuel economy.
Take, for instance, my grandfather’s 2001 BMW 7 Series. When he bought his loaded BMW 740i, it was the flagship of BMW’s lineup. The executive sedan featured pretty impressive computing power for the early 2000s, including a center console-mounted screen that featured satellite navigation and controls for the Bimmer’s stereo. Back in 2001, this was as good as it got.
Fast-forward to 2014, and that very same infotainment system feels (and looks) like it belongs in the Smithsonian. Tablets, on the other hand, are capable of being continuously updated.
A handful of automakers are already working on incorporating tablets into their vehicles. Bentley, for example, offers the option of iPads docked in wooden tray tables an arm’s reach from those sitting in the backseat of its flagship Mulsanne sedan. Though it’s not technically incorporated into the Mulsanne’s infotainment system, the iPads allow passengers to easily stay connected on the go.
Other automakers have partnered with tech companies to take this a step further. BMW teamed up with Intel to further develop its ConnectedDrive system, an infotainment package featuring interactive displays and quicker app response times.
Google, Audi, GM, Honda and Hyundai have also joined forces to form the Open Automotive Alliance, which has the ultimate goal of bringing Google’s Android operating system to the automobile. At the Consumer Electronics Show in January, Google and Audi unveiled the Audi Smart Display, which is a 10.2-inch tablet that functions as a remote infotainment system of sorts for the vehicle’s passengers. Via Wi-Fi, the Audi Smart Display will allow passengers to control Audi’s infotainment functions like navigation and radio from the comfort of the back seat.
Other automakers are looking to bridge the gap between strictly dashboard-based infotainment systems and completely wireless, tablet-based systems. Chevrolet, for example, offers a basic infotainment system on its Sonic and Spark economy cars. Dubbed MyLink, the infotainment system uses navigation and music apps on a smartphone or tablet to function. Tesla takes this even further: its Model S infotainment system is literally a giant 17-inch tablet with its own Internet browser, Google Maps integration and music apps. While Tesla’s infotainment system may be game changing, other automakers have yet to follow the California startup’s lead.
Tablets can also be used as a supplemental infotainment system for older vehicles that may not have come with one, especially if the tablet has a 3G or 4G connection. There are more than a handful of tablet apps that drivers (or more appropriately, their co-pilots) would find useful.
For example, most tablets offer Google’s Maps app, which covers all the bases as far as navigating from one place to another is concerned. Google Maps also integrates well with apps like Yelp, allowing drivers to easily find gas and service stations, as well as restaurants and rest stops.
Tablets can also help drivers avoid traffic and the fuzz. Apps like Waze allow users to find and report traffic, as well as avoid congestion on their routes.Trapster is another useful app where users crowd-source the location of police cars and speed traps to avoid tickets on long trips.
With most everyone sporting a connected device like a tablet these days, it’s only a matter of time before tablets are further integrated into new cars, trucks and SUVs. In the future, it’s possible that a car could be equipped with a dock that would allow a tablet to be used as the infotainment system. If and when that day comes, tablets would truly be a game-changer in the automotive world.
Christian Seabaugh hails from Brooklyn, New York and is an Associate Online Editor at Motor Trend where he writes about his passion: cars. He loves burnouts, donuts, road-trips and rally cars and has had a love for automobiles for as long as he can remember. Though originally from the East Coast, Christian now lives in sunny California and has never looked back. With an insatiable appetite for all things automotive, Christian will be bringing the latest and greatest in the auto world to iQ by Intel readers.