Since the advent of portable electronics, man has been trying to jury-rig portable electronics into automobiles to replace the lowly car stereo. Those days may soon be coming to an end.
I spent most of my early- to mid-twenties trying to figure out how to route a nearly inexhaustible collection of MP3 music files through my car stereo. This was back in the early 2000′s, mind you, and multiple gigabytes of storage space on a portable music player didn’t really exist yet.
My first attempt was literally a 3.5-inch computer CD drive bolted to an MP3 controller about the same size as the drive. The entire contraption was about the size of a small-ish shoebox and sat atop my dashboard. End result: Over 100 songs burned to a CD in MP3 format. It was far from safe and the discs skipped all the time, but we were getting somewhere.
Then there was the $200 Genica portable MP3 player – like a Discman that played regular CDs and MP3 CDs. I bought it in 2000 when I was a junior in college and it was stolen the same night. I cried harder than I’ve ever cried before. Yes, I’d been drinking but I’d cry just as hard again.
That’s it – above, center. Actually, that’s the one I bought to replace the stolen one. I still have it (that photo was taken a few years ago). On the right is one of the first portable hard drive-based players I ever bought. On the left is the second one I ever bought, if memory serves. Both still have the Velcro patches on the back that I used to affix them to my dashboard.
There were others, too: One of my favorite systems used a conventional desktop hard drive that slid into a housing that was mounted in an open 3.5-inch drive bay for transferring songs, then slid into a similar housing mounted in the car. There were a couple full-fledged PCs running in the trunk from time to time, which never worked well. And when the early, early tablets came along, I mounted a Nokia 770 to my dash, which had a touchscreen but was pretty sluggish.
Fast forward to today, and in-dash touchscreen car stereos are everywhere. But you know what would make the best in-dash touchscreen car stereo of all? Your smartphone. It has a built-in internet connection, which opens up a great big world of possibilities.
While several after-market car stereos feature connections that leverage certain features of your smartphone, a new stereo called “Dash” is looking to make your smartphone function as your car’s entire entertainment system. Dash is currently a project on Kickstarter from a company in Colorado called Devium.
It’s a simple idea, if you think about it: You already use your phone for most of your mobile entertainment anyway, so why not use it as your car stereo? The sheer number of available music and GPS apps alone make this a compelling idea.
The setup consists of a simple double-DIN head unit that’ll fit into most modern cars, and an interchangeable faceplate that your phone snaps into. That interchangeable faceplate is important because if you get a new phone, you don’t have to replace the entire system.
More on the faceplate, according to the project page:
This is where your phone is located and it is the interchangeable part of Dash. The faceplate allows you to buy different phones and continue to use Dash. It is made from CNC’d aluminum and the back of the faceplate is made of plastic. GPS signals are not attenuated and GPS functions very well. It secures to the body using neodymium magnets.
The first run of faceplates will be compatible with the iPhone 4 and 4S, followed by faceplates for Android and Windows Phone handsets.
The whole getup is scheduled to launch in July for $300, provided Dash meets its $45,000 fundraising goal. If it gets off the ground and works as advertised, we’ll have come a long way from the early days of in-vehicle entertainment. More importantly, we’ll be closer to a future where your phone is your main computer and you simply go around docking it into things.