Tired of plowing through a 300-page owner's manual to pair your smartphone with the infotainment system in the rental car you just picked up?
There may be a solution. A Finnish software designer is adapting a technology called NFC to allow motorists to pair smartphones simply by swiping the phones against the instrument panel.
NFC, or near-field communication, allows owners of Samsung Galaxy smartphones to trade photos, videos and other files by exchanging radio signals when the phones are tapped together.
Now Elektrobit Automotive Inc. of Finland wants to find a use for NFC in a vehicle's cockpit.
The motorist swipes his smartphone against a spot on the instrument panel, clicks "OK" on his phone, and voila! The phone is paired to the infotainment system.
"It's technically doable," says Elektrobit Vice President Rainer Holve. "We've done it already in a trial. The pairing is pretty straightforward, and it's not expensive."
Since the technology is inexpensive, this would appear to be a no-brainer for automakers. Naturally, there's a problem. Some phones work better than others -- even with a technology that is supposed to be standardized.
"For some phones, it works fine," Holve says. "For others, the phone asks you for your password. So you haven't gained much."
Smartphone manufacturers often are reluctant to tweak their phones for vehicle use because the auto industry represents a small sliver of the total smartphone market.
So Elektrobit is designing software workarounds for those phones.
"It's painful because the mobile phones change every six months," Holve says. "So you retest, but there's only so much you can do."
Still, Elektrobit appears to have a legitimate hope for commercialization.
The company produces navigation map software for Volkswagen, General Motors and others, so it's already a player in the infotainment world.
And NFC technology is catching on quickly among smartphone users.
Perhaps most important, there's a real need for a simpler pairing technology.
About five years ago, Holve says, one automaker's survey showed that half of its customers were not pairing their phones with their vehicle's infotainment systems.
Holve says more car buyers would pair their phones if dealerships did a better job explaining the technology.
It also should be possible for automakers to simplify their infotainment user's guide.
But the simplest upgrade of all would be NFC, Holve argues: "Swiping your phone would be perfect."