The New York Times today carries a story about Chrysler replacing paper owner’s manuals for its cars with DVDs. This sounded sensible to me when I read the headline, but then I thought about what would make sense…
- most of the dashboard space devoted to speedometer, etc., replaced with an LCD screen
- GPS navigation standard
- wireless Internet receiver to connect to the free universal wireless Internet that perhaps some day the U.S. will construct and, until then, to open networks, the owner’s home network, and the dealer’s network
- a bit of flash memory
Given these items of infrastructure, which an engineer who didn’t have any experience in the automotive industry would probably design in, the extra hardware cost of on-screen help would be $0. If a driver got confused about how to use the car, he or she could browse through a text/photo/video owner’s manual on the screen normally devoted to navigation (note that this is how Nikon digital SLRs work; you can press a Help button at any time). The manual and GPS would be kept up to date with trickled data through the Internet receiver. In the event of a total system meltdown or for stuff that needs to be done outside the car, e.g., changing a tire, there would be a 20-page printed quick reference guide.
With Chrysler’s design, the urban owner who is confused about his car will have to walk several blocks back to his apartment, put a DVD in a player (will the average person even have a DVD player in 5 years, once everything of interest can be streamed?), watch the DVD, try to remember what he saw, then trudge back to the car. Couldn’t he use his laptop computer in the car? That would be nice except that increasingly people are getting netbooks without DVD drives. And in any case shouldn’t a $25,000 car be able to explain itself?
So… it sounds as though finally a car company is adapting to the modern world, but actually they are adapting to the way things were in 1975 when a CRT would have added a lot of weight to the car, computer data storage and processing was expensive, and it would have made sense to send the consumer home with a Betamax cassette.