This was the first time I've ever been to CES. I knew CES is the largest consumer oriented electronic show and despite a 10% reduction in attendance, this year did not disappoint in terms of size. Fibreoptic and I walked for 4 days straight and still didn't see all of the show, which takes up the entire Las Vegas convention center and spills over to several nearby hotels.
So, what were my impressions? The overwhelming sense I got was that car computing is alive and well but is unlikely to include traditional computers in the next few years. The days of the car PC are numbered.
Smaller and Smaller
The trend on the mp3Car.com forums for the past several years has been more towards innovation on the software development side rather than the hardware side. Although the learning curve may be steep for newbies, car PC veterans know that it is trivial to install a PC in a car. Power supplies, screens, hard drives and motherboards that can survive and operate reliably in the car are readily available and easy to install. While performance differences command differing price points, car PC hardware is effectively a commodity.
Combine this with the trend of shrinking hardware size whether form factor, power requirements or storage, along with continuing price reductions however you measure the cost (per megabyte, per CPU cycle, per watt) and the car PC is an endangered species. Why? Because small device like smartphones are getting both smarter and more powerful.
These phones are destined to be more than just application-enabled handheld devices. They represent a product that is increasing in storage, computational capability, full time connectivity whether bluetooth, WiFi, or cellular. Right now, they represent a simply a communication component that can link your car PC to data or voice networks but as they become more powerful they will eventually displace the PC in the car.
Consider how close a device such as an iPhone comes to replacing a PC in the car right now. The big apps for car PC's such as music, video, web browsing, GPS and high speed internet are all available. Turn by turn navigation and voice control are not on the iPhone but doubtlessly they will be and they are available on other phones today.
Of course, there are still compromises. Phones have a visually intensive interface, limited storage, proprietary protocols and OS capabilities, limited graphics capabilities and slower CPU's than full-blown PC's. Here's why I don't see that as a problem in the near future:
The move of desktop applications to the net via web applications such as Google apps like gmail, mapping, calendars, chat and so forth offload the processing to systems on the net. That means the net computes your routings rather than your PC. It also offloads the storage requirement for data like maps while permitting access to live, updated information like traffic, weather, video and so forth. Connected computers have much more value in the car than non-connected ones.
What Does the Future Look Like?
So, what do I think this new future of car computing will look like? I think within the next five years we will see a shift from hardware in the car to a mobile device that you carry on your person. This device will help deliver what I call "Webiquity," the intersection of the right information to the right person at the right time, and on the right device. Webiquity exists in a limited way today for example, whenever Google asks you if you meant to inquire about movie times instead of moive times, but it doesn't span the majority of our human activity.
When do I think a 'magic' device or phone will be delivered? First, I doubt if we will recognize it when it first appears. I certainly never connected the idea of putting a modern PC in my car when IBM delivered the PS/1. It will probably emerge through gradual experimentation and the ease of fitting crucial missing links in place.
The main link is advances in communications. It's pretty clear that if you are willing to pay for it, you can get net access most of the time. As the coverage becomes better and the cost for connectivity continues to drop, our attention will turn towards the possibility of actually depending on the net for things we can't store on our devices -such as weather, dynamic traffic, gas prices and so forth.
In fact, current iPhones might make a pretty good car PC except for the screen and the interface. Even if there were an easy way to link the phone's display or drive a separate display (say, by bluetooth or WiFi, or even by a docking mechanism), we'd still have the problem of the interface and extending the functionality of the phone in the car.
Therefore it's not necessarily a lock to say that this device will be a phone. As hardware gets smaller and more powerful, non-handset makers will be innovating to offer connectivity on new and different types of devices. Who knows? It may not be a single device at all. It might be a series of devices and interfaces that you interact with as you move from home to car to office and back. All I know is that the results will be small, powerful, and connected.
Given the ability of a web browser to access and run most any kind of web application running on nearly any type of OS, I expect the OS in the car device to become less and less of an issue except for specific hardware interface issues. The OS will still matter on the web server, but the end result -the application being run by the client, will be less and less important.
So, while one piece of the puzzle is probably hardware -something like a monitor that is wireless or cellular and can interface with your handheld device, the other piece is software.
The Software Will Be The Solution
Once we can reliably depend on the mobile net, we'll start shifting our attention from front ends that are tied to an OS to front ends or voice interfaces that are built on the web, for our cars. We'll be able to mash up services, figure out routings, get directions, find phone numbers, view webcams and stream data in both directions.
Of course, we can already do that in some of the most advanced car PC installations. The best part will be the applications we haven't thought of yet. Right now, nascent applications that are location aware are just now beginning to be developed. Consider how cool would it be if you could conjure up Zillow while driving through neighborhoods hunting for houses? School performance, tax data, things to do and see would be available to you on the move. How about dynamic GPS reroutes based on traffic density reports online? Or instant comparison and evaluation of codes thrown by your car's OBDII port to tell you whether you need to head to the nearest mechanic right away or whether that sound the car is making can wait a day or so?
It may all sound a bit far out right now but what I saw at CES confirmed what I already thought. The days of the car PC are numbered. It may die a slow and lingering death, but evolution is going to catch up with it eventually. I think sooner than later.
Based on our experiences at CES this year MP3car is creating this new forum. ďMobile phone meshing Ė Safely Connect your car to the internet cloud Ē
This forum is going to be a lot more than just connecting. This is going to be the place to talk about hacking and meshing your mobile computing devices into the car. If we can find a way to connect Iphones and smart phones into existing in vehicle displays and controls, this will be a wonderful benefit for those of us who just want to carry one device and developers trying to prove out connected car concepts.
Same of the challenges we need to work on:
Phone user interface retooling and modifications for the driverConnecting your smart phone to the carConnecting accessories to the above (hard drives, flash memory, GPS, engine diagnostics, tracking)Mirroring your built in phone display with the display in the car.
We have also created a specific iphone section to talk about some of the early progress already being made to mirror the video content of the iphone with external displays - an excellent start to phone phone car meshing.
Updated 09-17-2009 at 04:23 PM by optikalefx
Tom Berry (bugbyte) and I talk about our closing thoughts on CES 2009. The main theme this year from CES is having all of your devices connected and having location aware content. The biggest challenge is going to be for device manufacturers and software developers to create products which will deliver this explosion of data in a way that users can consume it. These products must be aware of the users activity and location. For example, if you are sitting down you will consume and control data in a different way than you would if you were walking or driving a car. Our favorites from this year were Airbiquity's innovations, Intel SSD, and the hardware that Giantec is developing for themselves(here and here) and for Intel. We are also very excited about the possibilities that ICO's satellite system opens up.
Updated 09-17-2009 at 04:24 PM by optikalefx
We talk with John Xu, the US representative for Lilliput. He tells us about some new models that are in the works.
Updated 09-17-2009 at 04:25 PM by optikalefx
We talk with Robert Allshouse, Business Development manager of Intel's NAND group. He talks about Intel's SSDs which are now hitting mass production. The products are guaranteed to work from 0c-70c. They use less power and take far more of a beating than their disk counterparts. Just get ready to unload your wallet.
Rob Wray: Hi, my nameís Rob from MP3 Car. Weíre here at CES 2009 at Intelís booth, and Rob from Intel is here with us giving us a quick demo of some of their memory thatís been in the press recently. So youíve got three different modules of memory here which are all very interesting.
So this guy here, heís an eighty gigabyte module that sells for what? About $500 on New Egg? This guyís about, is $1,000, and how ĖĖ
Intelís Robert Allshouse: Thatís 160 gigabyte. And this little one down here is another eighty gigabyte. Itís the same drive in a slightly smaller form factor for your more small form factor net tops and other smaller applications.
Rob Wray: Okay.
Intelís Robert Allshouse: Using a micro static connector instead of the standard static.
Rob Wray: So how long do these last?
Intelís Robert Allshouse: The typical life for the consumer level drives is theyíre expected a five-year useful life, and that useful life is at a ten-gigabyte write per day.
Rob Wray: Right.
Intelís Robert Allshouse: So since the technology has finite write cycles. You can read as much as you want, so itís a read-intensive application. By continually reading maps from there, youíre not affecting the life.
Rob Wray: Right. So you were telling me a little bit before about multilevel drives. So the multilevel drives, you can write two bits of data per transistor, and the single level drives you can write one bit of data per transistor. So it sounded to me like most of our readers are really going to be interested in the multilevel, because you get the same read performance off the multilevel versus the single level, and just your write performance is degraded, and it sounds like with five years writing ten gigs a day, the MLC is going to capture everybody unless youíre trying to run a database server or something with tons of writes.
Intelís Robert Allshouse: Thatís right. The SLC drives, our thirty-two and sixty-four gigabyte drives, at near the same price points, are really focused on those sequel server guys with high write intensive applications. The five-year useful life for these drives is for most consumers plenty, and itís actually more than enough. The difference in the writes as you were saying, itís about seventy megabytes per second write on the MLC drive. And itís 150 megabytes per second write on the SLC drive.
Rob Wray: Right.
Intelís Robert Allshouse: The reads are about the same. They both flood the SATA bus at about 250 megabytes per second in reading. So youíre read performance between the consumer level and the enterprise level drive are the same.
Rob Wray: We were also talking about boot times. So boot times you said was one of the least impressive benefits out of flash, but a lot of people that we work with decide to resume from hibernate, and since thatís just a read application we should get a pretty good boost and resume from hibernate, but not boost Ė booting.
Intelís Robert Allshouse: Yeah, you definitely Ė I mean, you see definite improvements in your boost. You know, five, ten seconds. But a lot of whatís happening, if you go look at a boot demo side by side, youíll see the IO light is not flashing as much because itís going so much faster, but youíre still waiting. And there are a lot of other things that happen during boot besides just IO.
Iím less impressed by that as much as something like hibernate, or really application load performance. Because application load where youíre random IO performance shows the huge difference, and youíll see a demo on that where you can see you know, files transferring and applications loading immediately in real time.
Rob Wray: Well, letís get into that demo.
Intelís Robert Allshouse: Alright. So the primary purpose of this demo is to show how while file transfers are happening in large applications, you donít slow down the rest of your system. So right now weíre copying a 680-meg set of files, at the same time weíre going to open up Picasso, look at six large pictures, create a collage, and then choose another IO-intensive application like opening up iTunes, which then looks in your folders, sees if there are new songs to look for, all while thatís happening. And this takes about thirty seconds before the collage is done, and playing.
Rob Wray: So the CES show floor is loaded with tons of vendors, probably hundreds of vendors, trying to sell you memory for your laptop. Whatís the difference between stuff that would go in an inexpensive laptop or itís floating all around the halls versus what we see here?
Intelís Robert Allshouse: So there definitely is a big difference, and theyíre all based on the same NAN technology with the exception of MLC and SLC, but really underlying it is NAN. But what you do for say additional camera where youíre writing maybe a couple hundred times maximum in the life of the drive, and youíre writing at the speed of moving a five-megapixel image or maybe even high def video at thirty megabytes per second, itís different than what youíre trying to do on a laptop. And so you do have different rates.
The most simple grade would be a USB or an SD card, and those are designed around consumers who are just moving small amounts of data rarely. Youíre not using it all day, every day. And then you move to your net top, net book type design, where itís still small density and itís off-the-shelf components building a small density low cost SSD. And at the high end, you have some drives like this one that have architecture design and route very high performance. Ten channels and parallel operating versus maybe two or four in the lower end drives for net book type applications.
Rob Wray: Right. So the other thing you guys have done, you were telling me before is youíve written some Ė in your controllers, youíve written things to optimize the write processes so itís faster. You have more DRAM and things like that that you wouldnít see in consumer grade.
Intelís Robert Allshouse: Absolutely. A problem inherent in technology behind these is you canít write a single bit, and so what you may run into is depending on how a vendor writes their algorithms, they may have to do two, four, ten times the amount of writes to change the amount of data they want to change. Weíve optimized that to get down to about 1.1 times. The termís called write amplification. So it says that if youíre at two times versus one time, youíre getting half useful life. Weíre only doing about 10% extra writes and weíre best in class in the industry.
Rob Wray: Thatís great. Well, thanks for taking the time to give us such a thorough interview.
Intelís Robert Allshouse: My pleasure. Thank you, Rob.
[End of Audio]
Updated 09-17-2009 at 04:26 PM by optikalefx