Wednesday, December 1, 1999

A look at the first year of the Auto PC with Microsoft


By Mark Moeller

December marks the first anniversary of the Auto PC's shipment. I thought this would be a good time to take a look at what this past year has brought and get a peek at what the coming year will bring. I also thought this was an appropriate time to get some questions answered for those of you who have written in wondering what was happening with the Auto PC. So, as part of this issue, I have included an exclusive interview I conducted with Dave Wright, Director of Business Development for the Auto PC at Microsoft, regarding the questions you've been sending me.

When the Auto PC was rolled out in December of 1998, it was welcomed by many who had been anticipating its arrival since January of 1998, when it was introduced with great fanfare. Although the product was over six months late when it was released, enthusiastic consumers snatched it up quickly. From reading posts on the Club Auto PC forum, it was clear that people were excited and eagerly awaiting add-on software and hardware.

The first third-party Auto PC software on the market was OmegaOne's Active Volume. It turned the volume up and down on the Auto PC, based on the speed of the vehicle. This kept the volume to road-noise ratio the same as the vehicle traveled at various speeds. The first full-featured application to ship was InfoGation's Odyssey navigation system. Its high quality and attention to detail really set a reference standard for other third-party ISV's (Independent Software Vendors) to measure up against. Odyssey truly made the Auto PC shine in the area of navigation and was well received by Auto PC owners. It's also the only third party software for the Auto PC that has actually passed the certification process with Microsoft. Over the course of the year other applications and utilities trickled out, such as OmegaOne's game suite and Mobile Visions' very popular sound schemes. However, nobody would introduce another major piece of software until TravRoute shipped CoPilot for the Auto PC this past October.

When Clarion rolled out the Auto PC they announced several hardware peripherals for it including a GPS receiver, CD changer, cellular phone interface, wireless receiver, vehicle diagnostic bus interface (CARPORT), and an improved microphone. Over the course of the year all these products, with the exception of the CARPORT, were released. Each of these products helped the Auto PC deliver more and more of the functionality promised. Auto PC owners quickly snapped up these items and had their enthusiasm renewed. However, each had its own shortcomings and users had mixed results, depending on which of these devices were being used together. Clarion responded by releasing an operating system update for the Clarion AutoPC called Service Pack 1 that fixed many of the problems users experienced.