It was still launch day when the folks at SoundMan Car Audio custom mounted an Apple iPad 2 into the dashboard of a Ford F-150 (see video above). The end result is definitely impressive and it makes for an interesting argument, as our friends at TiPb pointed out...

The iPad 2 is the perfect car audio and entertainment system, the way these guys have installed it, complete with charging, video out to rear screens and the perfect fit and finish has really got us thinking. Car manufacturers really need to stop doing customised LCD panel audio and sat-nav systems and just adopt the iPad 2. This should be an extra in any good car manufacturer's price list! It makes so much sense and offers so much more. 

It's almost time for me to replace my old clunker, so I've been doing some browsing in my spare time and have to agree that I'm not really sold on the car manufacturer dashboard LCD audio/sat-nav systems that are shipping on most automobiles today (at least the ones I'm looking at). That's a somewhat dumb thing to say of course, as a lot of these systems are powered by QNX which is now owned by Research In Motion and forms the foundation of the BlackBerry Tablet OS, but there in lies the opportunity!

The more I learn about QNX, the more I'm convinced it's the Chuck Norris of operating systems (on twitter I hear it can win a game of Connect Four in three moves and play a two hour movie in two minutes!). In the automotive environment, it's not really the current underlying OS in these dashboard LCD systems that is the problem, but rather that there are too many cooks in the kitchen wanting to cook with cheap ingredients. Each manufacturer wants their own UI, their own unique features, and wants to do it as low cost as possible. While tossing iPads into cars from factory and passing off the cost to the consumer as an added feature is one possibilty as noted by TiPb, beyond media and entertainment I think integrating the iPad into the entire car's computer systems would likely be a bit of a challenge. On the other hand, QNX already has the ability to connect with literally everything in a car (see QNX Car Application Platform). As consumers, what we need to see happen next is for the RIM/BlackBerry influence to enter the automobile and tie it all together with native in-dashboard support for a tablet device such as the BlackBerry PlayBook (I'm guessing we'd have to wait for the next generation).

Here's my dream... in step by step form:

  1. Open the door of my new 2013 Range Rover 
  2. The dashboard enclosure folds down and opens up
  3. I pull the PlayBook from my coat pocket, and slide it into the dashboard, upon which the dashboard folds back up and the PlayBook looks completely natural in the interior
  4. Just as I can set my BlackBerry Smartphone to enter the alarm clock app when plugged into charge, the BlackBerry tablet switches to a "car OS" the second it's connected within the dashboard (car manufacturers could still custom brand this).
  5. Since both the car and PlayBook are now running on QNX, the PlayBook actually connects to the car's systems allowing me to do all sorts of cool stuff beyond just media and entertainment. The PlayBook is literally part of the car.
  6. When I get to my destination, I can leave my PlayBook if I want to, or can easily take it out.
  7. (still trying to workout what happens when I forget my PlayBook outside of the car and need to drive somewhere... still working that one out in my head!)

One of the big benefits I see with the 7" PlayBook form factor is that it is a lot more use-everywhere friendly than larger tablets like the iPad. I've owned an iPad since it came out, and find it sits around home like a coffee table book or at best I take it with me to kill time on airplane rides when traveling. But it's just too big to carry around and use locally at places like coffee shops or restaurants (annoying to transport, and I feel douchey with it!). So at least for me, the homebase for larger-sized tablets like the iPad is literally the home... which also happens to be where I have a laptop and desktop computer and television, which in their own ways are all superior to an iPad, which means the iPad sits around a lot doing nothing. But if the homebase for my tablet became the car - that's where it lived a lot of the time, then I would use it much more while out about, which is where I think a big part of the appeal of the tablet class lies, and would still bring it into the home at the end of the day for my before-bed ebook reading.

Though the market for (modern) tablets is still in its infancy, just about every article I read these days paints a similar picture - that even though a plethora of well-specced tablets are hitting or are about to hit the market, Apple will continue to lead the category with its iPad (and iPad 2) offerings. I get it. Apple is the one who revived the category putting out a product in a compelling package at a fairly reasonable price that was easy to use and made sense for consumers to buy and even enterprises to try (I refuse to call a giant iPod touch "magical"). Apple deserves credit. Apple has the early market share lead, great consumer brand recognition, and already has a second generation tablet on the market, while a company like RIM is pushing hard just to get their first one out the door. But the way a lot of people are looking at it, no matter how good any follow-up tablets are, be they RIM/BlackBerry, HP/Palm WebOS, Android-based, etc., they're all somewhat "me too" after the iPad. So even if the competition can brag about the things they do better than the iPad -- like full flash support, true multi-tasking and even better hardware specs -- Apple gets to shrug it off.... because well, they're Apple (Steve Jobs reminds me a bit of Mugatu in Zoolander actually... so hot right now he could take a crap, wrap it in tinfoil, put a couple fish hooks on it and sell it to Queen Elizabeth as earrings).

So while I am pumped to get my BlackBerry PlayBook and based on what we have seen so far think it will be an awesome product that should get some great reviews (and it'll only get better being such a young platform), I can't help but feel a little saddened that RIM is not likely going to get much in the way of props from the tech press and world at large as being innovators in the tablet space, at least initially. That said, I do think the tablet game is far from over and really believe there is a MASSIVE opportunity for RIM that would change that me-too tablet perception and really help them gain an even bigger chunk of market share, and it's automobiles. They already have the "in" thanks to QNX. Now they need to work those relationships and really bring BlackBerry to every automobile right from factory. Automotive companies haven't been shy to try this type of thing in the past -- tons of cars come with iPod adapters -- but the unique opportunity for RIM here is to go that extra step beyond accessory and try to be native on the dashboard... be truly integrated into the automotive experience.

It's a crazy world out there... is it too crazy to dream that one of the biggest future retailers of BlackBerry tablets could be auto manufacturers? Maybe. Who knows. My mind starts to wander when I have too much time to think (just get me my PlayBook RIM... I wantz it now!). Anyways, let me know what you think in the comments! Anybody else want some native car dashboard tablet support?