Illustration for article titled More Cars Should Abandon Infotainment Screens For A Nice Smartphone Mount
Photo: Datsun

If you read about the demise of Datsun, you might also just be realizing Datsun is (was) still around as a low-budget brand outside the U.S. One way it was keeping prices down: Omitting center-console screens for simple phone mounts. That seems like something more cars could adopt across the board.

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For those of you working in auto design and product planning, here’s a fun free idea: Abandon screens, at least in lower and medium-tier cars, and instead take the time to develop a truly elegant dashboard phone-mounting system.

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Climate control, windows, and locks can be done with hard buttons (see also: Traction control, all functions related to how the car interacts with the world) while entertainment, navigation, and connectivity can be outsourced to the driver’s smartphone.

The mandatory backup camera can Bluetooth in or be accessible via an app. For customers who don’t have a smartphone, sell a cheap one for that function and the radio exclusively.

Want to add more features not mentioned? No, stop, just lower the list price and start working on the next project.

At the risk of branding myself as a tragic nostalgist–though I am definitely trending that way, sorry–I don’t find a lot of value for drivers in the practice of converting car controls from knobs and switches to touchscreen everything.

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As a driving enthusiast, I definitely don’t like having to interact with screens to operate a car, and fanciful features micro-adjustments can go to hell. ...Yikes, now I’m really starting to sound like a fist-wagger.

But let’s be real: It’s easier to use your phone for navigation and music than work through a car’s operating system... which you’re probably just using to pair your phone to the car’s screen anyway. Your phone’s also more likely to be freshly updated, too.

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Consumers like phones better than cars. Or at least, that’s what automakers seem to think as evidenced by the relentless trend in car design of making screens as prominent and populous as possible on every dashboard.

Car companies clearly see the appeal of driver/phone interactions but are reluctant to outsource infotainment wholesale because they want to maintain control of the car’s graphical user interface. So, we end up with half-measures like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Neither of which, after extensive testing, are actually better than a phone mounted on a dash in my humble opinion.

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The ultimate compromise, that could make cars cheaper and drivers happier, is for automakers to stop making mediocre infotainment software and instead take the time to develop a solid, secure, decent-looking way to tie a modern phone mount into an accessible slot on the dash.

Reviews Editor, Jalopnik | 1975 International Scout, 1984 Nissan 300ZX, 1991 Suzuki GSXR, 1998 Mitsubishi Montero, 2005 Acura TL

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