On Tuesday, Apple launched the iPad mini. Apple events in the fall of 2012 may no longer command the social anticipation they did just a few years ago but they remain flash points for technology reporting. This release brought on more than its share of speculation that the mini is simply an overdue acknowledgement that Amazon got something right with Kindle and that Apple has quietly slipped into following mode. Some pundits have seized on the angle that Apple’s new tablet appeared to contradict Steve Jobs’ famous trashing of the 7″ form factor. But in all of the hullabaloo, one observation seems to be missing: that a tablet of this size is tailor-made for inclusion into the dashboard of your car.
Nothing dates a car like its electronics. And nothing is more tragic that the user experience of pretty much every single in-car navigation and music system. The luxury car segment can do Corinthian leather and wood grain appointments like no industry on earth. They can build a magnificent driving machine that powers through rain and snow like it was a sunny day in LA. But ask them to do a screen-based app and you get something that looks like it was designed on a TRS-80.
I didn’t renew the trial SiriusXM in my 4Runner because I couldn’t stand its programming compared with what I could stream from my iPhone using Bluetooth. Every time I rent a car, I use my phone-based Navigon app over any provided GPS because my app is just better. I’m hooked on Waze, despite how few people use it up here in Vancouver (you should sign up — the more people who use it, the better the traffic data is). The apps on my phone are always up-to-date and I replace the hardware every couple of years for the latest model (which is good enough for me; after all, it’s only a phone).
All cars need is a standard, lockable frame where you can plug in the device of your choice, plus a standardized connector. Then let free market competition and innovation prevail over apps. Tomorrow’s gear heads aren’t going to be like the hot rodders of my Dad’s generation or the tuner kids of a decade ago. They are going to be geeks with apps using APIs.
That’s what the iPad mini is for.
(It’s interesting to note that the wifi-only mini does not have GPS but the cellular version does…)