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L.A. Auto Show: Five car tech features that are a waste of space

November 22, 2013|By Paresh Dave
  • No one wants to see a snowy screen on their car entertainment system, like the one pictured from a Bentley. Car makers are improving the tech in cars, but making a few missteps along the way.
No one wants to see a snowy screen on their car entertainment system, like… (Paresh Dave / Los Angeles…)

Automakers want to build as much functionality into dashboard screens as possible so that users never need to pick up their smartphones while driving. But along the way, a few very odd and unnecessary features have caught on in the infotainment systems of cars.

Here’s a look at silly features spotted in cars displayed on the Los Angeles Auto Show floor.

Picture navigation. Audi kicked things off at the Auto Show on Tuesday by unveiling the A3, the first vehicle that can connect directly to a 4G LTE mobile network. With that, the German automaker introduced a feature it’s calling picture navigation.

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Imagine trying to meet some friends at a beach. They say they are by lifeguard tower six, but where exactly that is and what’s the closest parking to that tower is unclear.

You ask one of your friends to text you a picture from the spot. Once received, you download the picture and open it up in Audi’s smartphone app. The app can pull metadata from the photo, including the GPS coordinates indicating where it was taken. Click “send to car,” and the coordinates are shipped to the in-car navigation system. Voila -- if you really want to go through all that trouble.

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Basic calendars. Mitsubishi, Acura and Lincoln are among the car manufacturers who have included a calendar app in their infotainment systems. They don’t sync with a smartphone’s calendar, and they don’t allow car owners to add events to them. They are about as basic as you can get. Sure, the calendar might be handy when trying to schedule something over the hands-free phone system. Still, the driver eventually needs to pull something out to jot down the date.

Compass app. Infiniti’s Q50 S included an app to help orient vehicle occupants. Of course, they could just as easily look to the screen right above where the navigation app does its magic. In the bottom right corner of the navigation screen sits a perfectly suitable compass.

Photo galleries. Looking at the kids is great, but is that something that needs to be done in a Volkswagen or a Chevy? What happens when you upload photos onto your car and then the vehicle gets stolen? At least a phone owner can remotely wipe it if stolen. 

A photo gallery app might make sense if there was some easy way to find screen saver functionality, but this wasn’t apparent in any cars. Same goes for the “Movie times” app that often comes with satellite radio services. Isn’t settling on a movie time a decision that’s made before stepping into a car? Even when out and about, it's doubtful a car would be a better medium than a smartphone.

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Poor menus. A quirk in the menu on the Chevrolet Camaro exemplified the confusion that is infotainment systems. One screen menu included buttons for fuel prices, movie times and quick info. When "quick info" was clicked, a new menu popped up. On this screen, two options were again fuel prices and movie times.

Bonus: A Lincoln representative said that its cars can accept 25,000 different voice commands. That already sounds scary. How to go about learning all of them? Car owners are directed to watch videos online.


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