Drivemode docks your phone in the dashboard

Most of us realize our phones have better services for driving than those that come built into most car dashboards, so Drivemode demonstrates how its app works with a phone docked in the dashboard.

Wayne Cunningham Managing Editor / Roadshow
Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine.
Wayne Cunningham
2 min read

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.

Drivemode app
Enlarge Image
Drivemode app

The Drivemode Android app works fine on its own as a specialized interface for driving.

Antuan Goodwin/CNET

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.

Drivemode dock

To realize Drivemode's docking concept, automakers would need to offer a variety of brackets to fit every phone on the market.