A couple of months ago, I helped my neighbors’ son install a new sound system in his WRX. While we were buttoning that up, it occurred to me that the technology and features becoming de rigueur now would have been considered science fiction just a few years ago. So, I thought it may be a good time to bring you, dear reader, up to speed on all the unbelievable technology that a modern car audio system can provide.
With the incredible proliferation of smartphones, everyone but the most dogged Luddites has multiple “apps” always at the ready. Well, apps are not just for phones anymore, as today’s car audio systems are also very app friendly. Thanks to technologies like MirrorLink, Bluetooth and USB connectivity, you can migrate your apps to your car stereo quite easily. For example, in my vehicle, the apps I use most often are:
- Allows you to use your smartphone as a GPS. With Mirrorlink, the map can be put right onto a non-GPS seven-inch LCD head unit.
- I’m an early adopter of the Pandora Internet radio service, which allows users to program stations and listen to specific music genres or comedies, anytime. The service is great for introducing users to new artists and if you don’t like something, you can get rid of it, permanently.
- Another digital music service with millions of songs available and the ability to search for specific songs anytime.
- Shows the price of fuel at every gas station within a 10-mile radius. Handy when you’re running low and trying to save a few bucks.
- A handy and very accurate trip computer that can show you your current and average speed, mileage traveled, directional compass, etc. It has a very customizable screen, and comes in handy when your OEM speedometer is somewhat less than accurate due to gearing or tire size changes.
- A powerful navigation and live traffic information app that works by sharing data from all its users. You can even share info on road hazards, speed traps or what have you along the way.
- This is a must have app for anyone who wants to share their location, or for parents to keep track of the kids. You set duration for tracking, pick a destination and send the info to your trusted watchers. Running late? Send a Glympse and let them know. Wondering where someone is? Request a Glympse and find out quickly!
- Allows you (via a mobile hotspot) to listen to your favorite radio stations from all over the country. Have a favorite station in NYC or LA but you live in Ottumwa? iHeart Radio is just what you need.
What’s a Mobile Hotspot?
A mobile hotspot is a mobile Wi-Fi network that typically isn’t meant for public use. Many cellular service providers offer devices that are referred to as “mobile hotspots” that allow several other devices to connect to the Internet. Some smartphones can perform this same function by creating an ad hoc Wi-Fi network, which is also referred to as tethering.
Because a mobile hotspot can provide Internet access to nearly any Wi-Fi device, there are a number of useful applications. With a mobile hotspot in your car you can listen to Internet radio and access streaming video content You can also use the connected device to receive real time traffic and weather, and of course check your email via text-to-speech.
Maybe to some, the idea of accessing the Internet from the road might seem frivolous at first, but it does have real utility for anyone doing long commutes or road trips. Like in-car DVD players, video games, and other entertainment systems, mobile hotspots are really more about the passenger’s convenience and entertainment, rather than the driver.
Many OEM automobile manufacturers are including mobile hotspot functionality right in the car, though the specifics differ from one case to another. BMW uses a system capable of creating a Wi-Fi network, but you need to add your own SIM card. This provides you with a little flexibility and you can even take the hotspot with you when you get out of the vehicle.
Other OEMs, like Ford and GM, allow you to plug your own Internet-connected device into their system, which will then create a Wi-Fi network for you. This also offers a great deal of flexibility, though you have to obtain a compatible device and a service plan with data access before it will work. That guesswork is taken out of the equation by other OEMS, like Mercedes, who have partnered with mobile Internet service providers to provide comprehensive hotspot solutions.
While this short column only mentions a few of the thousands of apps you may find handy in your car, hopefully it gets you thinking about what you are missing!
Oh yeah, for you real Luddites out there… did you know you can play music from a shiny round disc, read by a beam of light these days? You can even skip instantly to your favorite song, and you don’t even have to eject it and flip it over halfway through!