During the mid-80s, any luxury car worth a second glance was kitted out with the Blaupunkt Toronto SQR 46 radio cassette deck. This large Din unit was as synonymous of the decade as the pop compilations we were playing in them and the fingerless glove-wearing hands that were pressing rewind to Frankie Goes to Hollywood.
Jumping forward 30 years and thankfully we are only left with the electronic beats of Frankie and arguably some of the finer fashion points of the Boom and Bust years. Unless you are at a Capri Owners’ Club meet you are about as likely to find a cassette deck in a car as rocking horse manure in a toyshop.
In the last five years and in direct correlation with the rise of the iPod/mp3 player, consumers have come to expect cars to be compatible with this technology and car-makers have finally begun to grasp that.
My partner’s parents have recently bought a Hyundai I 30 with USB, iPod/aux lead, Bluetooth and voice-activated hands-free calling. What more could you want on an affordable small hatchback?
In-car technology is the new cool thing and I don't mean popping down to your local automobile accessories store to kit your car out with a DVD/Playstation and neon lights.
Manufacturers have realized to get people to spend their money on new cars they have to have more to offer than just that 'new car' smell. The buyer wants the car to be an extension of the entertainment they have at home.
Toyota based its recent advertising campaign on the new 'touch & go' system, available across the range which enabled the owner to be much smarter than the ‘gadget master’. In its simplest form Toyota will give you a unit with touch screen, Bluetooth, mp3/iPod and parking camera. Those funniest home video shows will never be the same again.
If you decide to spec it up further, suddenly a whole new world opens up. With Satnav you can preload using Google on your home computer and then send remotely to the car. There are also applications that will find the cheapest petrol station or nearest parking space, voice to text conversion for emails. There is even an app that will assess the music you are currently listening to and then search your catalogue to find similar music to suit your mood!
My only fear in the face of the multimedia-filled Aladdin's cave we are presented with in the new car market is the usability aspect. On the website/spec sheet all of the above technology is wonderful but we all know how frustrating it can be when it doesn't work. Voice activated technology of the past has been notoriously unreliable and incredibly frustrating. No one wants to be offered navigation options to the Barons Cross Inn in Devon when they are trying to get to Club Heaven in Charing Cross!
But if the driver has to override the system and use hand controls this can distract them away from the driving, and can be extremely dangerous.
It would seem however the boffins at US audio and infotainment company Harman may have taken in-car technology to a new level - a Kinect-style gesture control system.
A new concept car they have revealed uses a dashboard mounted infra-red sensor to recognize pre-defined driver gestures. For example, a wink could switch on the entertainment system, tapping either side of the steering wheel could turn the volume up or down or lifting your hand in front of the climate control could control the temperature; the options are endless.
Of course even this new infra-red technology could leave you in a slightly awkward situation. Imagine having programmed it to recognize your thumb and little finger placed against your ear as the signal to make a call. How do you explain to that cute guy you’re stuck next to in a traffic jam, who happens to catch your gaze as you call your boss to tell him you will be late, that it’s actually your new hands-free system?
But then again, that might not necessarily be a bad thing.
So what next? Personally I am waiting for an intelligent car with an ever so slightly camp voice that talks to me......nah, that would be far too 80's!