It was a little over a year ago when we gave up on our dream of what Brainiac could be for a connected car. Since then I’ve personally used a standard Android tablet in my vehicle for over a year and have found major challenges in trying to make something that was designed to be held in your hands an effective solution in an automotive scenario. Go figure 🙂
So what are we doing about this? First, scrapping all of the prototype code that we wrote previously. It was created to be an entire self contained unit with remote access from your smartphone and architecturally not something we need going forward. What I’ve found over the past year is that there are a few key things that can be written for a tablet that will make it extremely usable in a vehicle.
So we now start from scratch. Re-using the same look and feel that we had created before, but now in a more targeted manner to first address the main shortcomings of a tablet in a car. Once we have those main shortcomings addressed we’ll look to expand Brainiac automation and features if there’s demand.
So what are the main shortcomings?
- Everything on the home screen is too damn small making navigation to apps almost impossible while moving!
- Volume control is next to impossible.
- Common media functions (play, pause, next, prev) are next to impossible. Tablet media apps are designed to be held in your hands, not used while moving.
- Home, Back and App Switcher are next to impossible to access. Virtual buttons are too tiny.
Basically at the end of the day, everything is way too small to try and control while driving, and the above 4 tasks accounted for 99.9% of the interactions I’ve had with my car tablet over the past year.
These symptoms were actually the main detractors from the original Microsoft Ford Sync implementation. Everything was too damn small and required too much fine grain control and dexterity. This creates all sorts of distractions when driving as you try to manipulate your finger on the touch screen with an out-reached arm while the car is bouncing.
Try a little home experiment for me… sit in front of your TV watching a sporting event, then prop your tablet up at arms length away from you where you can reach the tablet only with a slight bend in your arm. Now slightly bounce in your chair, watch the game and try to navigate your tablet at the same time… Wait, let me save you the time… you will fail miserably LOL 🙂
So how do we plan to solve these problems with a new version of Brainiac?
Problem (1) Everything on the home screen is too damn small making navigation to apps almost impossible while moving!
We are re-creating Brainac as an Android launcher application. This will replace your existing icon/app launcher for your home screen with something large and in-charge. Basically the same layout as what we were doing with the original Brainiac concept. Large icons and touch points with high contrast and color customisation.
Problem (2) Volume control is next to impossible… and… Problem (3) Common media functions (play, pause, next, prev) are next to impossible. Media apps are designed to be held in your hands, not while moving.
We will be enabling the two finger gesture volume adjustment and next/back media navigation that we had in the original Brainiac prototype as seen here. This will work great while you’re on your main home screen (where you are most of the time) and we will also be enabling gestures from the edges of the screen while you are in other apps that will launch the dual finger gesture interface over top of your current app when needed.
The main home screen will also contain the media player controller interface as we had in our original Brianiac prototype. This will work essentially the same as any current Android media widget which provides essentially the same type of control that any modern head unit does when connected to your phone for Bluetooth. It will display album art, and provide pause, play, next and previous functionality.
The cool thing about the media player is that it will work with any media app you choose to install and launch on your tablet. We will have a quick launch icon in the media area that you can map to your favorite media app to then be able to launch and select your desired playlist, station etc.
Problem (4) Home, Back and App Switcher are next to impossible to access. Buttons are too tiny.
In the case of Brianiac plastics this is especially a problem as the plastics cover the navigation buttons of the tablet. Yikes! What we are doing here is providing gesture areas on the edges of the screen that will allow you to swipe the right side to go back, left side to launch the app switcher and swipe up to go back to the home screen.
This will provide full Android navigation with gestures and no longer require hunting to hit the tiny buttons.
The above mentioned features will be revision 1 of the Brainiac software. We “hope” to have this ready in Google Play by the time anyone has printed out the plastics for their car. We’ll do what we can to hit these timelines, and if we can’t get it done in time we’ll suggest an alternative gesture app that will get you past the plastic covered navigation controls for now.
We think these are valuable features to anyone installing a tablet into their car regardless of Brainiac plastics and hope it will also help others who have already created custom tablet solutions for their vehicle.
We’ll keep everyone updated on our progress 🙂