Most new cars, and certainly all higher end vehicles, now have an “infotainment” panel, system or center. Once you see a picture of it, it’s easy to grasp that that’s tech-talk for the part of the dashboard that includes the radio and onboard GPS—but a lot of people are asking “What the heck is all the rest of that stuff?” so here’s an overview of what infotainment is all about.

What’s the Big Idea Behind Infotainment?

Modern culture is becoming increasingly “connected” and there has been a demand for vehicles to keep pace. When your refrigerator can connect to the internet and order groceries, you’d expect your car to at least be able to get online, after all. The result has been a collaboration between auto makers, software developers, and electronics manufacturers to try and make being connected and using the latest tech in a moving vehicle both safe and efficient. Companies such as Apple and Google have gotten involved in making sure their products are integrated, and car companies, including Ford, Toyota and Cadillac have developed their own systems.

One of the challenges of safe operation is to minimize the amount of time the driver is distracted. Most states have banned texting while driving and many have extended that to include the use of hand-held devices altogether. The result is that drivers are putting their cell phones in holders attached to the car, which isn’t necessarily safer. Building in voice-operated phone features is one way car designers can increase convenience, but they also have to make sure they aren’t creating a hazardous situation when drivers us the system. They also need to make sure not to install the technology in a way that will be outlawed any time soon.

What’s in the Panel?

The different systems have some varying features and technology that’s used, but most have the same basic attributes:

Touchpad controls – Infotainment centers are generally digital with a touchpad for control, and some also have a remote control, which can be especially handy if you want to allow passengers to have control of the music on the radio, freeing the driver up from having to be in charge of entertainment as well as vehicle operation and navigation. Voice control and steering-wheel mounted audio controls are also common.

Large Screens – The size of the screen keeps getting bigger as designers increase focus on ease-of-use, with safety as a big driving force. Large buttons and space for big text should make it easy to use at a glance.

Music – The radio is a standard feature for entertainment and news in cars, and one of the primary components of the infotainment system. Just as cassettes have gone the way of the dodo, CD players are becoming less common as drivers turn to mp3 and online music to supplement whatever they find on the radio, so a CD player may or may not be included.

Navigation – A hugely useful feature for most drivers is the navigation system. Not only can drivers see a map and receive step-by-step directions to their destination, current traffic problems can often be displayed.

Video Players – DVDs for passengers’ video screens may be controlled by the infotainment panel.

Additional Options – USB ports to plug in media, electronic car controls such as sensors, remote starters, etc.

Space-age infotainment centers give interior designs a sleek, modern look. Whatever kind of car you drive, we’d like to help you carry that kind of detail to the exterior by replacing your cheap dealer license plate frame with a stylish, high-quality stainless steel frame, available in a polished stainless steel or matte black finish.