It's an idea that many smartphone enthusiasts have probably considered -- why not do away with typical car electronics in the dashboard, from navigation to radios, and just leave a space to dock a smartphone? Drivemode, a start-up that makes an Android app designed as an interface specifically for driving, showed me just such a concept during a demonstration in San Francisco.
Partnering with Honda, Drivemode removed the head unit of a CR-V, replacing it with a dock for a Nexus 6 smartphone. For my demonstration, I got into the passenger seat and the driver of the CR-V showed how the empty dock could swing outwards, letting him easily slip the Nexus 6 into place. Pushing the bracket into place, he launched the Drivemode app, currently available for Android phones on the Google Play store, which showed a simple clock display by default.
Swiping across the screen, the app let him easily move through navigation, audio and messaging. Within audio, for example, he could swipe down to choose sources, from the phone's own music app to online services such as Spotify. As Drivemode mostly serves as an interface, it relied on the Google Maps app for navigation. The 6-inch display of the phone was adequate for navigation, although LCDs built into car dashboards have generally gotten bigger than that.
And while Drivemode can simply be used on a phone held in a windshield or dashboard mount, the dock presented a few benefits. The driver showed how he could operate the Drivemode interface using a four-way steering wheel-mounted controller. The phone was connected to the car's audio system through Bluetooth, which didn't really require the dock, but let music and navigation instructions play over the car's speakers. More impressively, Drivemode showed a video feed from the car's rear-view camera, complete with trajectory lines based on the position of the steering wheel.
The idea certainly works, and the Drivemode app makes for a good interface while driving, letting you get at core phone features with minimal distraction.
However, there are a few wrinkles against mass adoption by automakers. First of all, car dealers won't want to show cars to prospective buyers that have a big blank, unfinished looking spot right in the center of the dashboard. Even more difficult for automakers will be accommodating the wide variety of smartphones available on the market with the necessary stock of different-sized docking brackets.
Drivemode's biggest hurdle comes from Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as both smartphone integration features are being aggressively added by automakers. Both features show your an adapted version of your phone's screen and functions on the car's own LCD. Even Honda, which partnered with Drivemode for this docking idea, has added Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to its latest Accord and Civic models.
However, if you're an Android user and your car doesn't support Android Auto, the Drivemode app is worth a try. For now, of course, you will need a phone mount, as Drivemode's dock is just a concept.