A Plea For iPhones To Have A Safer "Car Mode"

Every phone on the planet has an airplane mode—so why not do the same for a car?

Texting while driving kills more people than drunk driving. Yet most of us are probably guilty of the transgression: Your iPhone chirps. You glance around at the traffic. Then you make a quick grab for the cupholder to read the message. And in the worst cases, you might even message back.

Are we all guilty? Sure. But we’re also stuck inside a design problem, according to Joey Cofone and Michael Vanderbyl, who've created an elegant conceptual solution to our lack of self-discipline called Car Mode. Rather than distracting us with constant, alluring notifications, Car Mode gimps your iPhone in the name of safety.

The system is activated passively, going into Car Mode as soon as the iPhone pairs with your car’s Bluetooth system. From here, you can take hands-free calls or follow turn-by-turn navigation in the same manner as always. But when someone sends you a text message, they’ll be notified that you’re currently driving. Meanwhile, the phone won’t alert you in any way—no bleeps or buzzes or onscreen alerts. Instead, when you exit the car or turn off the ignition, a summary screen will greet you with any and all messages you’d missed.

Despite that it’s just a concept, the team worked within the API and UI logic of iOS 7. "It was important that we stick to the infrastructure already created and apply it across our concept," Cofone tells Co.Design. "This way new users can immediately feel familiar with the new functions and seamlessly apply them to their life."

And Car Mode really is seamless—so seamless, in fact, that it makes us wonder if contextual user interface could drive a better iPhone experience across the board. After all, iOS already allows users to disable some functions on planes or block calls late at night. What if these shifts were modeled more after Car Mode, and with a lot more frequency?

"Dinner Mode may sound like a good idea—no more distractions when you're eating with your family—but getting a text in between forkfuls of pasta doesn't kill you," Cofone jokes. "Getting a text while driving can."

Even still, the potential that Car Mode brings to mind is about so much more than texting. Could the iPhone be a device that’s constantly tailoring itself to an environment, keeping quiet in a movie theater while streamlining price comparisons and calorie counts at a supermarket? Could the phone go a step further, and know what you’re holding at a store to provide more information about it, or recognize you’re at a concert and automatically push you tweets from other people at that concert?

There’s no reason why any of these things aren’t possible, or even a bit probable, now or in the near future. But the beauty of Car Mode is that it tunes much of the world out, while contextual technologies may likely tune even more of the world in.

UPDATE: As many have noted, a similar feature exists in Windows Phone and the Moto X. All the more reason for Apple to consider the idea.

Car Mode won first place at the recent AIGA Command X competition, where Vanderbyl served as Cofone's designer mentor.

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  • Bob Juarez

    How about proper manners and self control, which seems to be lacking not only in the area of safety awareness but in general.

  • WonkaVision

    I had a great auto text responder on my Android phone. The fact iPhone does not have this nor allow app developers access to that part of their iOS is insane. I used that app everyday.

  • Melody Ayres-Griffiths

    I had a Garmin Nuvifone a few years back, and as soon as the GPS detected movement above walking pace, it locked you out of calling and messaging. A great idea, but not the newest...

  • Philip Vasta

    Seriously? I clicked on this article thinking it was giving credit to Windows Phone, which recently got this exact functionality. Nope, just more slobbering over what the wonderful iPhone could possibly do in the future.

  • yieldway17

    Well, Windows Phones already have a 'drive mode' which exactly does all this.

  • Airkewld

    Glad the story was not on a windows phone, why read it if it doesn't pertain to you.

  • yieldway17

    Just pointing out that so called tech journalists are mostly ignorant about anything other than iOS. A note saying that recently WP implemented this feature would be expected of a journalist unless of course he/she is ignorant about competitors at all.

  • Airkewld

    Or that info might be for another article? Don't assume, take it for what it is worth.

  • daniel fosco

    He does have a point though.

    I'm an iPhone user and advocate myself, but there's a shitload of UX innovations outside of Apple's realm that goes completely unnoticed by Fast Company and other tech sites.

    It's lazy journalism with a hint of Apple fanboyism.

    EDIT: On the other hand, look at all the crap that Apple makes that no one talks about. Ever used the default iPad alarm clock? That interface makes me want to puke.