The CarPC - How Far Have We Come?
Thinking about it today, the car pc really has not come very far in terms of practicality and/or usefulness. It still is not a good solution for most people and it still requires lots of technical knowledge in both hardware and software to implement correctly. Below is a listing of what was originally set out from the beginning of the car pc revolution and what really happened...
Play digital content
Playing of digital music/content was always the #1 reason for having a car pc back before MP3 players and MP3 capable headunits became mainstream. Early frontends like Media Engine and Frodo Player did this beautifully and simply. At this point, this is a non-issue except for the fact that newer front-ends seem to overlook this feature and their media players are cumbersome, difficult to search by artist/song/album and can be slow to search your hard drive. Honestly, we might have taken steps backward with this feature.
GPS navigation was a major reason for having a car pc as well. Before just a few years ago, cheap GPS navigation devices didnt exist and it was almost cheaper to build a car pc to offer the same technical abilities as then current hardware offerings. Now with sub $100 navigation devices that do handsfree bluetooth with cell phones, offer connection to the internet for updating of maps and POIs, and cell phones with almost unlimited potential, the car pc has fell way behind in features and capabilities in this area. Software for PCs in this area have slowed down development and Linux has never had a really good software product ever.
Many early hobbyist thought that adding a car pc would increase vehicle safety. With simple interfaces such as large touchscreen buttons, voice control, and easy to use joysticks, it should increase safety behind the wheel. First hand experience, that is not the case. Skin developers are going for ultra shiny looks that can be difficult to use even when parked, yet alone driving. Voice control still is not perfected and other means of controlling the car pc still have not surfaced. Today's car pcs do not offer anything in the way of offering more safety to the driver or passengers. We have gone leaps and bounds backwards since the onset in this area.
With a car pc, we should be able to control the car using hardware interfaces. Sure we have made some steps with fusion brain and related products, but using them still required servos, relays, and other external hardware. Also against is that today's cars are infinitely more complex in terms of wiring than 10-15 years ago. Everything is hooked up the the car's multiple computer cores with almost no way to hack or communicate. The car companies have locked down the protocols and will not release how they work. I would say working on a newer car is harder than old cars based on this. While we have not gone backware in this area, the car manufacturers have made the rift even deeper due to their "innovations".
Same as above, having the car turn on itself in the morning automatically or doing X at Y time falls in the same category. While we have more info and hardware on how to do it, newer cars just make it that much harder.
So while we have made great progress towards front-ends that use plugins and are extensible and cheap car pc hardware that anyone can afford and install, the original goals we wanted to reach are still not met. New developers have gone on different tangents and created solutions to problems that didnt exist or affected a small subset of people. Hardware exists, but isnt expandable or doesnt fit everyone's needs. Car pcs are more a distraction than ever before.
We are farther away then ever before and I do not think we will ever bridge the gap as a hobbyist community. It just may require the intervention of the car companies or some other large corporation to complete the gap and bring car pcs to the masses. When that happens, we have failed, since we were never able to do it alone.