Terminal mode or a standard mounting port for mobile phones in cars?

It’s very common to use mobile phones for driving activities today. Many people even put in cell phone holders in their cars when they want to use the phones as navigation systems as well as make calls over a bluetooth. There’s even evidence that dashboard mounting reduces the distracted driving phenomenon associated with phones in cars.

Nokia and others are pushing one alternative for the cars that have dashboard screens. This is called “Terminal Mode” and is a protocol so the phone can make use of the display, buttons and touchscreens in the car. Putting the smarts in the phone and making the dash be the dumb peripheral is the right idea, since people upgrade phones frequently and cars not nearly so much. The terminal mode interface can be wireless so the phone does not have to be plugged in, though of course most people like to recharge phones while driving.

Terminal mode will be great if it comes, but it would be good to also push for a standard port on dashboards for mounting mobile phones. Today, most mobile phone holders either stick to the windshield with a suction cup, or clamp onto the vents of the air conditioner. A small port or perhaps flip out lever arm would be handy if standardized on dashboards. The lever arm would offer a standard interface for connecting a specific holder for the specific device. In addition, the port would offer USB wiring so that the holder could offer it to the phone. This would offer power at the very least but could also do data for terminal mode and some interfacing with other elements of the car, including the stereo system, or the onboard-diagnostics bus. Access to other screens in the back (for playing video) and to superior antennas might make sense. While many phones use their USB port to be a peripheral to a PC, some have “USB to go” which allows a device to be either master or peripheral, allowing more interesting functions.

Even with terminal mode, there could be value in having two screens, and more buttons, though of course apps would have to be developed to understand that. However, one simple thing is that a phone could run two apps at once on two screens (or even two apps at once on the larger screen of the car) which would actually be pretty handy.

Terminal mode

I believe the "distraction" of a cell phone is not entirely in the talking, but changing your focal distance to near-field, focal location away from traffic and focal field to a small screen. There is a center console on every car full of things that divide the driver's attention. But these things are in fixed locations with big controls. This means it is easy to remember (even muscle memory) where the interface is which makes the act of interfacing with the controls not a distraction. Plus, basic dash controls are usually set-it-and-forget-it.

So, I believe the terminal mode with the following criteria would be an improvement, but still more dangerous than a static dash:

  • The mobile phone hides away in a driver-side glove box where the connector and phone-specific adapter live.
  • The vehicle presents the phone's screen on a larger-scaled display: a HUD on the windshield or a sunlight-welcoming Pixel Qi display on the dash.
  • EVERY app must use common controls that have BIG buttons that are ALWAYS in the same location.

These constraints make the UI restricted like early J2ME and less like an anything-goes smartphone app, but that's what I believe is needed for safety.

Oh, and my patent-not-pending idea: the buttons should have a Portrait orientation, not Landscape. This is because when driving and pointing at a screen your finger is more likely to stray vertically due to the operator bouncing along on the road. So the button's target shape should be vertically oriented for greatest chance of positive contact.

On distraction

I do agree that touchscreen UIs are quite distracting though I suspect a fixed one on the dash is less likely to draw your attention from the road than a phone you are holding. While I see what you are saying, you will have a very hard time reducing app developers to simple button UIs, that’s for sure. You would want to allow touch UIs when stopped of course, and you also need to enable them when there is a passenger (the passenger seatbelt sensor could do this) but once you have done this the driver will be very tempted to try to get them as well.

For no-UI stuff, like “show me my navigation and traffic map” the dash screen will be better.

the USB cable itself might

the USB cable itself might be a convenient semi-universal mount. with a semi-rigid construction, i can see it serving as prop to a variety of mobile devices. it might end up causing overly much strain, but from the feel even my weighty B&N Nook is pretty solidly jacked in on it's micro-usb.

hopefully the connection need not provide more than power, at least not for long. between upnp, dlna, bluetooth, and whdi there's a pretty good spectrum of networked connectivity abilities out there already. mobile devices are just beginning to figure out how to use these (and more primitive connectivities such as HDMI), but hopefully the network can made to fill the role the cable has in antiquity served.

heh, nearly broke my

heh, nearly broke my micro-USB cable playing around with this idea.

Not strong enough

The micro usb is never going to do it, in a car you need something to handle the bumps and hold something as heavy as a tablet.

And yes, wired data should always be there if it can be. Wireless data is getting better, but the open bands are getting noisy and you have to do pairing.

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