Rhodri Marsden: The conflicted reality of the 'digital dashboard' is driving me crazy

 

While I was on holiday in Sydney last September, I got into a taxi with a dashboard festooned with five mobile devices, hanging off a variety of mounts, and all presumably providing critical information to the driver.

I was perturbed by his distracted driving, and not particularly surprised when he took a wrong turn and we ended up having to unnecessarily navigate a lengthy one-way system.

The combined processing power of these five gadgets had failed to take me where I wanted to go, but did a fantastic job of playing music, displaying the temperature, handling calls, calculating spurious statistics and lining up the driver's next fare. Unfortunately, it was – to use Aussie parlance – bloody dangerous.

Bestowing internet access upon drivers always feels slightly troubling, even for someone like me who normally derives great pleasure from being over-connected. If you've seen Werner Herzog's harrowing film about the perils of using mobile phones while driving, then you might be as sensitive to this issue as I am. Whenever I read about the so-called "digital dashboard", my instinct is to question the purpose of shoehorning this stuff into cars at all.

If the car is becoming another internet-connected device, the dashboard has the capacity to become as multi-faceted and fascinating as a phone or tablet. But at the moment, there's a very real conflict between functionality and safety. More is less. Less is more.

Google has teamed up with GM, Audi, Hyundai, Nvidia and Honda to form the Open Automotive Alliance, which aims to bring Google's Android OS to cars. Last summer, Apple announced its iOS in the Car, a bridge between mobile devices and cars, which we should also see rolling out this year. Last month, Chevrolet announced an App Shop, which adds a range of touch-screen options to its iLink in-car system – but while efforts are being made to enhance the driving experience with extra features and new things to prod and stare at, various "car mode" apps for iOS and Android are trying to take them away by simplifying phone screens to three or four buttons. At the end of last year, American designer Joey Cofone came up with a car mode concept for iOS phones, to dissuade drivers from fiddling; it would work like airplane mode, disabling every feature except hands-free calls and satnav – but you sense that any OS designer would be reluctant to hobble their devices in this way unless they're legally obliged to.

The problem boils down to the difficulty of prodding a precise area on a screen with a finger while avoiding prangs, accidents or worse. I just criticised a particular Australian cabbie for it, but you see this kind of thing all the time – drivers skipping songs, acknowledging messages, finding alternative routes – and it's clear that until we can trust voice-operated systems such as Apple's Siri Eyes Free to take complete control of dashboard devices without us having to touch them, there are going to be risks associated with their use.

Cutting-edge technology in expensive cars might address some of the safety issues, but most tech behind the wheel is sitting in a mount and masquerading as hands-free when, in fact, it's anything but. I'd be tempted to let the car become, with the exception of a dumb satnav, a digital-free zone – that is, until driverless cars take over and we can safely fiddle with our phones for the entire journey (while grudgingly acknowledging how much better they are at getting us from A to B).

twitter.com/rhodri

News
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
news
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Sport
Robbie Savage will not face a driving ban
football'Mr Marmite' faced the possibility of a 28-day ban
News
It was only when he left his post Tony Blair's director of communications that Alastair Campbell has published books
people
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

    £35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

    Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

    £28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

    Ashdown Group: Linux Administrator - London - £50,000

    £45000 - £50000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Administrator ...

    Ashdown Group: Business Intelligence Analyst - London - £45,000

    £40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: SQL Server Reporting Analyst (Busine...

    Day In a Page

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower