Saturday, July 4, 2009

Platform Selection

Knowing very little about carputers (as pcs in vehicles are affectionately known), I had a lot of learning to do. My objective was to build a system that would have the following functionality;
  • CD Playback
  • FLAC Playback
  • DVD Playback
  • Video file playback
  • FM Radio
  • GPS Navigation System
  • Hands free telephone integration
  • Internet Access for Web and E-mail
  • Video input for in-car camera monitoring
  • Touchscreen Interface
  • Wireless networking
  • Highly integrated hardware (out of sight)
To achieve this, I had a vague idea that I'd need to focus my research on the following areas;
  • CPU
  • Power
  • Touchscreen
  • Storage
  • Peripherals
Being a Mac fan and user, the obvious choice for me was a Mac Mini. Google searches soon revealed a few useful resources;

MacVroom - a site dedicated to Mac based carputers
123MacMini - a site dealing with all aspects of the mac mini - a lively community based carputer site

To my disappointment, it soon became clear that in order to meet the project objectives, a Mac was not going to cut it. While frontrow would be an excellent music/dvd/photo interface, there were many elements that were just not mature enough on the platform:

The only GPS navigation system to speak of is RouteBuddy and while it appears to function based on the demo download, the UI is not condusive to a low resolution touchscreen implementation. What a lot of people do is run boot camp or Parallels/VMWare Fusion on their mac mini and run one of the many available windows navigation solutions. This to me is an inelegant solution.

The other limited choice area is in hands free phone integration. This is usually done via Bluetooth and the only really mature application I came across for the mac is BluePhoneElite2. The demo of this worked very well on my MAcBook Pro and connected with my Nokia N95 8GB seamlessly, transferring contacts, call history etc. perfectly. However, the UI is again not all that suitable for touchscreen control having multiple small windows etc. In addition, it runs as a separate application so I'd need to be switching back and forth between front row, windows and BluePhoneElite2 - not an ideal situation.

Finally, the Mac section of the forums at is littered with half-finished mac carputer UI projects that either don't work, are no longer supported or require end-user compilation.

It was becoming clear that I'd not be using a Mac Mini in the iLux - just as well as I don't have one and it would really have pushed the project budget to buy one. The iLux will have a Microsoft heart.

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