Planes, Trains and Auto-Mobiles

Remember when the sole use of phones was to ring people?   You dialled a number (which you had written down in an address book), held a conversation, hung up and didn’t look at your phone again until it made a conventional ringing noise (and not an ineloquent stranger screeching ‘Oi, pick up your phone!’ as modern ringtones so often seem to consist of).

Today our phones are also our PC, our alarm clock, our camera, our diary, our internet, our music collection, our credit card, our TV…. plus they’re the only thing that saves us from sheer ridicule when you can’t remember where you parked your car.

Now, the car industry is fast moving in this direction.  Connectivity in cars has been cited as becoming increasingly important to car buyers, as people look to turn their car into a bit of a ‘mobile hotspot’.

At the moment we are reliant on 3G connectivity in cars.  So when you’re travelling to a destination 100 miles away, odds are that for 80 of those miles you’re just wandering lonely as a cloud…(pardon the pun)

Nissan Leaf owners may be able to check their battery life remotely, but if they can’t get a signal, how can they know where their nearest charge point is located?

This week has seen the announcement of the new Nissan smartwatch, ‘Nismo’.   This watch measures the wearer’s heart rate and temperature but also, when connected to a Nissan performance car, it monitor’s such things as fuel consumption, speed and weather conditions (it’s very polite about it all too – “Out you go, it’s a beautiful night!’). 

The intention is that if you’re driving erratically or about to fall asleep, the car will make adjustments to prevent this from happening.

Nissan have taken two emerging trends – wearable technology (see also Samsung and Sony’s new smartwatches) and car connectivity, put them together and made something which looks really quite exciting.

If you’re interested, Nissan have put together a pretty nice video to demonstrate the product, complete with dramatic sound track:

It’s all very well capturing this data, and if the purpose it serves is to save your life and that of others whilst you’re on the road, then that’s amazing.   However, without a 3G connection, any device that relies on data which is held in the cloud is about as much use as a chocolate fireguard.

This weekend’s Italian Grand Prix painted a vivid picture of this type of unreachable data situation.  Lewis Hamilton’s radio malfunctioned – the one thing that connected him with his team.  His team could still read the data but they couldn’t communicate with Lewis to tell him vital information like the fact that he had a puncture in one of his tyres.

When Lewis pulled into the pit lane, the Mercedes team actually carved a hand written note onto a board – the first time they were able to communicate with him, and even then it was only one way.  Lewis relies on the information from his team to be able to manage the race, and a malfunctioning radio was a major contribution to his disappointing 9th place finish.

So – as much as cars are becoming increasingly ‘smart’, the most important thing to get right is connectivity.

Get it right, and I wonder now if cars will become as attached to us as our smartphones currently are?  Maybe we’ll see more and more cases of, “See you love, just popping out to the car to watch Sky Sports News,” because the signal is stronger than in the house. 

And perhaps the battle for a space in a car park will become increasingly competitive as people sit in their vehicles, playing Angry Birds on their steering wheel… just imagine the car park fees. 

Connectivity in general has become so important to us today – for both businesses and consumers.  Businesses need access all the time to their data, particularly as more and more applications become reliant on cloud technology, and there aren’t many things more annoying than than ‘buffering’ now.

So for cars – no matter what features are enabled to make the driving experience more enjoyable, safe, and ecological – built in connectivity remains the challenge manufacturers need to resolve.

Then again, will any of these features make a difference if in the end we’re all using driverless cars?  Or will we all be sitting in the back seat watching movies on Netflix? 

Ahem… I meant working – definitely working.

What do you think?  Do you just want your cars to be cars?  Or has our reliance on strong connectivity overlapped to our vehicles too?  Let me know your thoughts by commenting below.