Our resident nerd and car computer enthusiast, Sean Clark, won't shut up about tablets. Not a day goes by that he isn't half-rambling on about the potential benefits of integrating a tablet into his already tech-laden vehicle. So, if for no other reason than to give Sean the opportunity to get it out of his system, I thought I'd ask him a few pointed questions about why this tablet trend is going to be so... well, trendy. Here is Sean Clark, in his own words (and even and interjection by Rob Wray).
CAP: Why tablets? What benefits do they offer someone that are above and beyond a car computer?
SC: Off the top of my head, I can think of three big reasons:
a) The screen. You can spend over $1000 and still not get a screen that's as dreamy to touch as a tablet. All of these tablets have glass, capacitive (more on this below), multi-touch displays that have a coating to keep your finger happy. All of these CarPC displays are resistive (more on this below), plasticy, and single touch. There are SOME that are multi touch, and some that are capacitive, but it's inferior technology that cannot compare.
b) The Price. Tablets can cost as little as $600 for a fully functional computer plus a multi-touch screen. That same package is gonna run you close to $800 and you will still have to run a ton of wires.
c) The Software. Software on CarPC's is always growing and always developing. But the market for car PC developers is maybe .6% the size of the Android market, and an even lower percentage of the iOS developer market. You just get access to way more apps and way more customization to the user's liking when you go android.
Rob - I'm not so sure that stat is accurate - and the car PC developers may disagree.
Sean - Well, it's true that there are many more apps, but they may not necessarily be car centric. Rob - I can agree with that. There is just no "front-end" glue holding it all together. Very similar to the Car PC market in the late 90s. A bunch of random software with no glue.
CAP: What are the differences in the monitor and touch screen? Why would this be particularly helpful in a vehicle?
SC: A normal car PC touchscreen is between 7 and 10 inches, is 'resistive,' and single touch. Resistive by definition means that you have to contact 2 layers together at a point to create the touch input. That means you will, on some level, feel the 2 layers. That gives the screen a softer feeling. Which is actually bad. Softer screen means more friction, which means more heat your finger generates when trying to swipe and gesture. Which brings me to my second point: gestures. CarPCs aren't really geared towards gestures. Because the screen is so "one touch," the software and displays are designed to treat "your finger as a mouse." Tablets have been designed to treat your finger(s) as a NEW input device. This means that you're expected to swipe and make gestures with one or more fingers.
Let's take scrolling for example. On a car PC, you would tap down and up arrow buttons. But on a tablet, you just swipe up and down, a much more natural interface for the user to use, and the displays make this all possible for tablets.
CAP: How would you integrate one into a car? What size would you need?
SC: The biggest challenge one faces when installing a tablet into the car is the fact that they don't conform to any auto standards. A lot of cars generally have a double DIN-sized opening (or close to that) which a 7 inch display can be fabricated into. That is to say - the 7 inch screen can be taken apart, and is now SMALLER than the double din size, which means it can be built in. A 7 inch tablet cannot be taken apart. So the bezel on the tablet will make the tablet BIGGER than the double DIN-sized opening. Therefore you will need CUSTOM installation for a tablet. So if you can't blow fiberglass or weld metal, your looking at $1200-$1,500 for a custom installation.
CAP: Where are we headed? Beyond the early adoption phase, what features do you see a tablet performing that might be exciting horizon concepts?
SC: I see room for what we call a "black box". There is still a void with tablets that car PC's still fill: connecting to hardware. Because of all the USB and serial hardware that has been created over the years, you can control your lights, engine features, remote functions, tuning and more with your car PC. None of that exists for tablets (except for the engine diagnostics). A black box would fill this void; it would interface with all of this hardware, and then translate its data to the tablet. Once this black box is made, the tablet will be able to do everything the car PC can do, including all the bells, whistles and customizations car PC hackers love.