Ford's In-Car Wi-Fi Is a Trend Toward Internet Everywhere
Considering the limited reach of AT&T's 3G network, Apple iPhone users on the go are frequently stymied by being reduced to the Edge network. How great would it be to have ready access to Wi-Fi, wherever you go?
Ford thinks it would be pretty awesome. The next generation of its SYNC in- entertainment system will include a port for a USB modem that turns your car into a Wi-Fi hot spot at highway speeds. The system will be available next year on selected models, but Ford isn't yet saying which ones.
And Ford customers won't have to keep updating their modems because the system will automatically download updates to keep it compatible with future devices, the company said. "The speeds with which technology is evolving, particularly on the wireless front, makes obsolescence a real problem," said Doug VanDagens, director of Ford's Connected Services Solutions Organization.
"We've solved that problem by making SYNC work with just about any technology you plug into it. By leveraging a user's existing hardware, which can be upgraded independent of SYNC, we've helped ensure 'forward compatibility' with whatever connectivity technology comes next."
"It's just one more step in the process toward Internet ubiquity," Greg Sterling, principal analyst with Sterling Market Research, said in a telephone interview. "There's this growing expectation of getting on the Internet wherever you are." Having it in your car clearly enhances that expectation.
"Eventually, we will get to near-ubiquity," Sterling said. "I think this is being driven by this notion that the Internet is a daily part of our daily lives. It's so wound up in the texture of our lives, and the carriers and vendors are feeding off of that."
While in-car Internet may only be available in 2010 for people with a certain income, in time Internet connectivity will be broadly available, Sterling added. "The broad connectivity permits broad kinds of devices," he said. "We'll see interesting new devices that tap into the idea that users will be able to be online all the time."
The Dangers of Texting
Ford's approach to let users plug in their own USB modems is unique among car makers, most of which view Wi-Fi as another opportunity to lock customers into proprietary solutions. GM's solution is a factory-installed option that comes with a $199 price tag (after rebates) and a $29-per-month connectivity bill.
While in-car Wi-Fi is sure to appeal to the younger set -- not only children but also 20-something commuters -- young people texting and Facebooking while driving is becoming a serious public-safety concern. The University of Utah recently released a study that found texting while driving is up to six times more dangerous than talking on a cell phone while driving.
The reason: Texting "requires drivers to switch their attention from one task to the other," the researchers found. While phoning and driving is a more distracted activity than focused driving, talking drivers "apparently attempt to divide attention between a phone conversation and driving, adjusting the processing priority of the two activities depending on task demands."