Mobile Devices: Are you ready for in-car Wifi?

By Rachel Flynn

cadillac in car wifi

Have you ever sent a text while driving, looking out the whole time for a police officer and hoping no one saw? Dialed a number on your phone or started to put an address in your GPS, only to have to swerve back fully onto the road or take a sharp turn? If you’re worried about distracted driving, I’ve got bad news: car companies are only adding more connectivity to their cars.

Cadillac has come out with its plans for a car with Wifi. The $499 option represents the first such a device offered from the company itself. The service charges $29 a month for the privilege of being a rolling hotspot.

It’s hardly alone. Hyundai is building support for social network feeds, joining Chevy’s OnStar, Ford’s MyTouch, and the explosion of USB, bluetooth, and iPod device support among all automakers. Rear-view back up cameras and DVD players with connections for gaming consoles were once rare and pricey options, now they are old news.

Why In-Car Wifi?

The company says that in-car Wifi will be a good addition for families with multiple Wifi devices or those that need to access the web while on the move. It’s a strange claim in an age when almost all cell-phones can connect to the Internet. It’s true having a personal, mobile hotspot could be useful for supporting multiple wireless enabled devices but this still seems like a narrow sliver of the market. Who would opt for a data plan for their car without purchasing one for their phone?

Automotive upstart Hyundai is pushing features that check texts, read updates from a Facebook feed, and stream music from the Internet radio service Pandora. It’s difficult to predict whether this will help or exacerbate the distracted driving problem. Despite the hands-free promises, I suspect it will only add to the technological cacophony inside our cars. (Never mind that it raises the specter of being “car-hacked” by an enterprising thief – a subject for a different article.)

It’s one of the great ironies of our automotive age that our cars are becoming more aware, with radars, cameras, and lane-departure warnings, as we are becoming less so. The vast majority of non-alcohol related auto deaths in this country are the result of distracted drivers, yet the push for ever more technology in the cabin continues.

Stuffing cars with touchscreens and computers isn’t a safe move for automakers either. Ford’s 2011 quality rankings by both J.D. Power and Consumer Reports plunged after years of gains. The culprit was Ford’s proprietary MyFord Touch system, an option on many of their vehicles that required users to use touch or voice commands to access many features. The system is known for freezing or responding slowly, and even when working perfectly the interface confuses many users.

Perhaps its for the best that Google is making great strides in its self-driving car, covering thousands of miles with only one incident – when a human driver rear-ended their autonomous car. When that technology hits the roadways, we will be free to shave, play World of Warcraft, or watch the latest Twilight film on our daily commute – and we’ll be far safer on the road.

Until then, you don’t stand a Luddite’s chance at CES in stopping technology’s march onto your roadways, so what to do when the driver next to you is more concerned about his signal strength than keeping it between the lines? Perhaps the best advice is that we get from our parents as teenagers first grasping the wheel: adjust your mirrors, wear your seat belt, and keep your head up.

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