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4 tips for turning your car into a mobile workstation

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Let's face it, the car as we've known it is no longer a car. It's a computer that happens to sit on four wheels. Here's how to make the most of it, no matter how old your car.

At this week's Mobile World conference in Barcelona, Spain, Samsung Electronics announced it is teaming up with Toyota to create an in-car solution that "seamlessly" connects Samsung smartphones to Toyota's In-Vehicle Infotainment (IVI) system. The collaboration will see the integration of an array of Samsung's smartphone and mobile communication technologies with Toyota's IVI to add connectivity, multimedia capabilities and Internet services.

The Samsung application will leverage safety in-car UX, a voice-command technology embedded within smartphones, to provide functionality, navigation and location-based services.

Let's face it, the car as we've known it is no longer a car. It's a computer that happens to sit on four wheels. As described in many places throughout SmartPlanet, there are prototype cars that drive themselves, that monitor health conditions, and monitor road conditions.

Instat research projected that 15 million IVI systems would be sold in 2011, with more than 35 million expected to ship by 2015. "in order to compete, the automotive industry must now keep pace with the innovation and scalability found in the consumer electronics industry," according to InStat Senior Analyst Stephanie Ethier. The worldwide number of cars able to connect to the Internet is forecasted to grow from less than 1 million in 2009 to more than 42 million by 2017, according to a report by iSuppli. (Source: Intel.)

If you don't exactly have one of these computers on wheels yet, there are some simple ways to outfit it with the right equipment to make it a very worthy workstation on wheels. Lifehacker's Adam Dachis explains how in a recent post:

Get car-friendly cables and power adapters: USB adapters that plug into your car's power station will suffice to keep your laptop powered up. "Just make sure the adapter works for your laptop and you should be good to go for about $25-30. Alternatively, you can go a somewhat easier route and just add standard outlets to your car." Dachis adds that to power up without draining the battery or burning fossil fuel, you only need to run the engine for a few minutes or so.

Enable tethered Internet access via your smartphone (or park near a coffee shop): "Making your phone act like a mobile hotspot is one of the best options. While you can pay your carrier $20 a month for this privilege, you can also just buy PDANet and avoid the monthly fee. PDANet is available for most smartphones and works out of the box, although iPhone users will need to jailbreak. Once you've got it installed, you can create a mobile hotspot with your phone and get online wherever you can find reception." If you are near a coffee shop, Internet access may be available, but it makes more sense to sit inside at that point, Dachis adds.

Use your tablet as a second display: Working from a laptop may be a crunched situation, so "Air Display can create a second wireless monitor for your laptop with an app for iOS or Android. It isn't perfect—you'll experience lag because it's over the network—but it's better than nothing. You also won't be able to use it if your devices aren't on a network, but if you're using your smartphone as a mobile hotspot that shouldn't be a problem."

Don't work from the driver's seat: Certainly not while driving, and with the steering wheel in the way, it's better to set up elsewhere in the vehicle. "One way to gain even more space in the back is to push the passenger's seat as far forward as it'll go and sit in the back-right portion of the car. You can also improve your comfort by using a lapdesk."

(Photo courtesy of Intel Newsroom.)

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Joe McKendrick

Contributing Editor

Joe McKendrick is an independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. He is a co-author of the SOA Manifesto and has written for Forbes, ZDNet and Database Trends & Applications. He holds a degree from Temple University. He is based in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure