Entertainment in the Driving Seat

18/07/2012 11:03 BST | Updated 16/09/2012 10:12 BST

In the 80's a thinking car was the stuff of sci-fi fantasy, but as Toyota Prius and Google prep the first driverless car to hit US highways and Ford rolls out self-parking cars around the world, the stuff of Knight Rider fiction jumps from our screens into reality.

Entertainment has long been an essential roadside companion, even 30 years ago there are few of us that would have contemplated embarking on a road trip without a glove compartment brimming with mix tapes or scratched CDs.

Yet with these new smart cars, the way we consume and share media evolves yet again. Today we live in a world where entertainment is truly mobile it can live in the cloud, be streamed from sites like Spotify or BBC iPlayer and downloaded to our smartphones and tablets.

There was a time when interactive entertainment involved pressing a red button on the remote. Now we live in a world where we can we can quite literally beam our favorite show from our tablet or smartphone to our big screen web connected TVs, while continuing to browse for other sites of interest. What's possible in the home is fast being echoed in the car and in a matter of years your Audi or BMW will become your Wi-Fi hotspot and an all encompassing media hub.

Apps Driven to Distraction...

In recent years drivers looking to access their smartphone apps and media libraries in car have been forced to use an auxiliary input and control the app directly from their iPods or phone while driving - a less than safe practice which take drivers eyes off the roads. To get around this driving distraction, many forward thinking automotive manufacturers are starting to think about in-car app compatibility within the dashboard. Take Ford for example, who recently announced its integration with popular American music app Pandora, letting drivers control their in-app music through voice alone, using the Ford Sync platform. In a similar vein, Mercedes-Benz second generation Mbrace2 system offers six apps including Yelp. Google Local Search and Facebook check in services. These solutions solve a short term problem; however having a set of propriety apps in car will not satisfy the marketplace for long. Ultimately the pace and innovation in the app marketplace will quickly outstrip car manufacture rates, leaving many users with old apps in relatively new cars.

Keeping your apptions open....

Interoperability will be key to the car of the future. Auto manufacturers can no longer rely on one entertainment format reigning supreme for decades as with tapes or CDs. The sheer pace of innovation in the mobile entertainment space means that car makers must keep interoperability top of mind with all new systems, opting for open architecture systems that communicate with all devices and formats. In the near future, our cars will act as our virtual media servers, allowing drivers to store an entire household's music, video and playlists in car. This in-car media server will allow each passenger to access and listen to the whole music library through their individual mobile devices or via the car stereo.

A world in-sync...

At the current rates of development it's conceivable that in 12 to 24 months, each time you pull into your driveway it will be like docking and synching your iPod today. Every synched storage device in your home will communicate with your car, seamlessly updating your in car library, with e-books, video downloads, music streaming playlists and MP3 libraries. So the next time you're out for a drive with the family and your kids want to listen to the track they downloaded the night before, it will be available at the touch of a button.

Better yet, for a driver looking to keep the kids quiet in the back seat of the car, a game of eye spy will no longer be requisite. As a multi-media hotspot the virtual dashboard of the future will allow the driver to beam multiple content streams to individual devices. So kids with iPads, Kobos or smartphones in the back seat can be pushed content across your in car Wi-Fi, from their favourite music, to the latest episode of the X-Factor.

Are we there yet...?

A question testing the patience of drivers and parents everywhere...and the reality is that despite huge leaps of innovation in recent years this in-car entertainment fest still need some serious refining. It will probably take several years for most innovative auto manufacturers to develop a future-proofed app system which is intuitive, minimally distracting and open to emerging mobile platforms. It will take longer still for it to filter down to the wider marketplace, but hopefully once it does, that age old question from fidgety passengers will be finally confined to the history books.