Have you discovered The Alexandria Project?
Let’s start by setting the scene. The in-car computing system has been a focus of competitive jockeying ever since computer chips first found their way under the hood, and a lot of the elbowing has been about control. Would cars have a unitary operating system, and if so, would Microsoft or someone else control it? Would the automotive industry control this new opportunity, or would others (e.g., after market vendors) be permitted to share in the wealth? And so on.
Still, why should the automotive sector buy in to this new paradigm?
As a matter of fact, there are quite a few good reasons. For one thing, cars last a lot longer than technology cycles, and it’s much easier to upgrade the silicon of a mobile device than a chip embedded in a car. Moreover, the Terminal Mode model can hedge the manufacturers’ bets against an alternative future based not on the size of a mobile device’s flash drive, but on that device’s access to the Cloud. In either case, the mobile device can be the customer interface that will have to change to adapt. True, the automotive manufacturers have had to give up any remaining hopes of tying customers to them via proprietary telematic systems, but customers weren’t going to buy into that kind of world anyway – they simply wouldn’t have bought proprietary vendor options and services – and perhaps the cars that offered them – at all.
At the end of the day, the automotive industry appears to have decided to take the classic standards route of adopting a standardized platform, and then preparing to compete on value-added features and services (some of the latter doubtless on a paid subscription basis). And not only car buyers, but their passengers will be able to interact with the vehicles as well.
Perhaps most importantly, car manufacturers won’t have to compete for the attention of application developers. Instead, every app that will run on a mobile device should be able to run on a car’s dashboard and seatback displays, assuming that the automotive manufacturer, and the Terminal Mode standard, do their parts. Absent this factor, it could be years, or never, before a given vendor could offer the kind of entertainment choices in its cars that its customers already get on their mobilt devices.
Will the same approach spread in other directions? Perhaps. Just this month, Motorola introduced a mobile device/dumb terminal notebook combo to appreciative reviews. The mobile device is the Android-based Atrix 4G, and it plugs into a loading dock with the screen, keypad, extended battery life and trackpad of a laptop – but no hard drive.
So perhaps it is that we have met the future, and that future is the past. Just as in the beginning, when a single minicomputer CPU would support many terminals, the mobile devices of tomorrow may drive many local systems – televisions, stereos, laptops – and cars. But this time, the entire computing environment will be driven by open standards, and more often than not, by open source software as well.