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Steve Jobs: The man who changed everything-especially cars

/ 10:57 PM October 25, 2011

On Oct. 5, 2011, Steve Jobs, the chairman of Apple Inc, crossed into the undiscovered country, having changed the way the world works and plays, especially in cars. The product that marked Apple’s comeback, the iPod, fomented a revolution in car entertainment. Oh, and he also invented the Macintosh and iMac computers, the iPhone and the iPad. And made possible Lightning McQueen and Co.

If your birth year begins with “19-”, you will remember a time when cars’ entertainment systems consisted of something called a radio. If you were lucky, there was a slot for a cassette tape. Preparing a mix tape for one’s crush of the month was a rite of passage. And the words “Auto Reverse” will bring a smile to your face.

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Then came those round, silver discs that were perfect for use in the automobile. They were compact and digital—they didn’t wear out, at least not until you listened to “Forever Young” 10,000 times. The problem was, they couldn’t be customized (yet)—each carried a complete album. So you had to carry more “cassettes”—this time a booklet of CDs.

No road trip was complete without loading your Case Logic the night before with your favorite discs. The highest rung on the automotive entertainment ladder was the CD changer. Changers that needed no magazine were jaw-dropping tech then. And you could only feel safe feeding your CDs to Japanese head units.

That all changed, thanks to a small plastic and metal contraption called the iPod. When Apple launched the iPod, suddenly, you could easily carry all the music you wanted in your car. There were MP3 players before, but none with the user-friendly interface of the iPod. CDs were popped into computers, their music transferred digitally onto iPods, and the discs were consigned to the dustbin of history.

The rise of the iPod rapidly killed off the cassette and CD, and also gave rise to an industry producing adaptors, cables, and chargers. At first, there was no way for car audio units to interface with an iPod, aside from mini-radios that used the car’s tuner. The previously useless Aux jack suddenly became a heaven-sent orifice. Carmakers were rather slow to adapt to the new standard in audio entertainment, being trapped in five- or six-year development cycles, but nowadays, no respectable car would be released without at least a rudimentary way to amplify an iPod’s output. If your vehicle is in the executive class or above, woe is you if it is not fully iPod-compatible.

Aside from conserving space and weight previously taken up by cassettes and CDs, the iPod made accessing music easy, something not readily accomplished before. That “shuffle” mode really made the commute more bearable. Hearing a forgotten tune as the iPod unexpectedly serves it up has become one of life’s little pleasures. Thanks to Podcasts, we can catch up with the news, sharpen our Mandarin, or even learn some car troubleshooting—all while driving.

We can’t cite any scientific studies yet for this, but the iPod is surely a potent weapon against road rage. Having your preferred music on cue has tamed many a savage road beast. Who can get mad at the unruly drivers around them while listening to Norah Jones?

The iPhone (and its competitors) has also opened up new ways of interacting with one’s vehicle. The portable computer can be used most basically as a convenient way of logging one’s fuel consumption and maintenance schedule. The phone’s acceleration sensors and GPS antenna enable it to work as a data logger, recording 0-100 km/h acceleration and cornering G-forces. Some comparisons have found the iPhone nearly as accurate as a stand-alone data-logging device. Recently, Volvo launched an iPhone app that allows owners to remotely start their car-and heater, surely of use in the brand’s frigid home country. Drivers everywhere will also breathe a word of thanks that their passengers can now play Angry Birds or Cooking Dash—and leave them in peace.

Hyundai’s luxury brand, the Equus sedan featured an owner’s manual encoded on an included iPad. The iPad would also be used to schedule service visits, among its other uses. This innovation won the brand some praise for out-of-the-box thinking. Wireless connectivity is already possible on many brands with Bluetooth capability. On a particularly stunning execution, the phone truly integrates with the vehicle and makes the car much more personal.

Some people have noted with chagrin that one person’s death-a very wealthy businessman’s at that, has caused much mourning, while much suffering goes on in the world unnoticed. While it is true that Steve Jobs died a wealthy man, we admire him not so much for his fortune. We admire him for his artistry and talent and conviction that he could “make a dent in the universe.” That he did, one device at a time. And the world hasn’t been the same since.

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TAGS: auto, Motoring, People, steve jobs, technology
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