Tivo revolutionized our viewing habits at home in front of the tube. If that was any lesson for the other parts of our digital lives, we expect pause-and-play radio to become another popular way to "time shift" our media habits. It will soon be popular across the new car market, but GM seems to have the lead on it now; we first encountered pause-and-play radio in the 2010 Chevy Equinox crossover and it's available in a host of other vehicles from the company.
While consumers are unlikely to queue radio shows like Tivo (and, in fact, they can't with the system today -- they can only pause-and-play whatever they are listening to at the time), we think the system has merit. One particularly neat aspect of the technology is that it can work even when the car is turned off. For example, if you have to stop for fuel but don't want to miss out on listening to a live game, you can hit the pause button, turn off the car and when you come back, it picks right back-up. The hard drive in the car can save up to 20 minutes of radio.
Cold weather car owners who don't have the luxury of a heated garage (or a live-in valet) have come to love remote start. Instead of hoofing out in a snowstorm and waiting for the vehicle to warm up and the windows to defog, drivers can activate the car and its ventilation and heating systems from the comfort of their living room. Warm weather owners do the same to cool down their vehicles, although no remote start systems on the market today allow for the windows to roll down.
The systems work simply and are generally fail safe: the driver must hit the lock button on the key fob, then press and hold the remote start button. This not only prevents an inadvertent start, but it assures that the car stays locked and undrivable until the actual driver's key is used to turn the ignition (or in the case of many modern cars, the chip inside the key is read before the push-button start is activated inside the vehicle).
It's amazing how back-up cameras elicit response in our passengers; they can't help but find themselves sucked into the vortex of staring at the LCD display that shows them the excitement that is the patch of pavement behind the vehicle.
While they've been available for the last decade or so, they've really only been the playground of the rich. In 2010, however, back-up cameras are everywhere: you can get them on everyday Chevys and Subarus. The cameras are triggered by the transmission: when the driver puts the car into reverse, the camera turns on and the view (usually in the center console) allows the driver the ability to view parking obstructions. Drivers of bigger cars with tough blind spots generally love back-up cameras because they allow for an extra set of eyes in case small children are playing nearby.
The pervasive connectivity we experience between our work and home lives has been largely disconnected from our automotive experiences up until now. While Ford's SYNC system and BMW's iDrive were some of the first in-car systems that allowed us to access web-like features inside the car, they really didn't give us the whole internet. That's likely to change in the next few years -- we just hope it's managed in a way so that the guy behind us isn't watching YouTube videos in the dashboard.
Tesla is expected to offer a 3G data plan in their next Model S sedan. This will likely require a monthly subscription (probably rolled into the cost of the car and not a separate bill), meaning that your car will act somewhat like a smart phone in its ability to access the web. It could also mean that the car gets its own phone number.
Mapping systems are at everywhere -- you can get them even in budget-minded small cars such as the Suzuki SX4 on up to a Ferrari -- but they're still an option we generally tell our friends to avoid. Why? At anywhere from $750 - $2000 (or sometimes more), they're not the best deal. As most drivers tend to follow the same route day-in and day-out, a portable navigation system is usually our recommendation. These systems are much cheaper: $100 can buy you a simple model that you can throw in your glove box when not in use.
But in the next five years, especially at the middle and upper end the market, car shoppers won't have much choice, as most cars will come with them as standard. Thankfully this shift means that automakers are going to have to buy more systems and the price will come down. As that trickles down to a level somewhere near the portable units, navigation in your dashboard will be the standard.