We spend more time in our vehicles during daily commutes than we like to acknowledge. In many cases, this time is wasted sitting on a backed up highway or in a parking lot waiting for an appointment. When we aren’t tasked with paying attention to other drivers and hazards, we can use these moments to stay productive or connect to social media. From in-vehicle systems to tablets and smartphones, there are fewer reasons than ever to waste time in the car.
Even if the National Transportation and Safety Board is successful in its attempt to ban all cell phone use in the car, you can still rely upon integrated OnStar, Ford Sync and Bluetooth-based, hands-free integration to stay on the right side of pending and existing legislation. These devices allow hands-free access to music, GPS navigation and phone conversations. Using built-in microphones and the car’s speaker system, these activities require a minimum of distraction from your essential driving tasks by using voice control and minimal button presses. Most importantly according to the NTSB, texting is impossible from integrated systems like these. Programming GPS devices and flipping through satellite radio station folders remain potential safety issues.
Smartphones are nothing less than small, powerful computers. Nearly any task available from a laptop is possible using a smartphone with the right suite of apps. Updating Facebook, sending Tweets about interesting things happening around you and texting an acquaintance to let her know you’ll be late for dinner are all a few taps away. It’s smart to never engage in these tasks while operating a motor vehicle, but using a few free seconds while stopped in a rush hour traffic jam or in the parking garage before you leave work helps you maximize connectivity away from your desktop.
Tablets are equal to or more powerful than many laptops, with the added advantage of using cellular 3G and 4G networks in some cases. Tablets let you update spreadsheets or polish those last few details on an important presentation. This connectivity lets you steal a few more minutes of productivity while riding to work in your carpool or waiting to pick someone up. With apps and cloud services that link your tablet to your work and home computers, well-allocated time in a car is equivalent to sitting in your office.
Most cities do not have blanket Wi-Fi coverage, causing us to rely upon the high-speed cellular networks that offer near-universal Internet access. These systems are the key to mobile connectivity, without which commuters would be forced to sit in the parking lot of a business transmitting an unprotected Wi-Fi connection. Smartphones and some tablets operate on these cellular networks; OnStar and Ford Sync use hybrid satellite/terrestrial radio signals for their two-way data streams.