Turn your car into an office on wheels

Modern technology has given working professionals the ability to get work done any place, any time – well almost anywhere.

Workers are connected at home thanks to accessible broadband Internet and secure VPN connections, and connected just about anywhere thanks to smartphones. But there’s one place that stubbornly remains a productivity purgatory – the car. You can’t even pick up your phone anymore while you’re driving, let alone crack open a laptop.

Related Story: How drivers can avoid getting a ticket for using a cell phone

But that’s no reason that road warriors who are accustomed to driving a lot shouldn’t be able to transform their car into an office on wheels. There are myriad devices to help busy professionals stay productive while driving, pulled off to the side of the road, or parked in front of a Wal-Mart.

ITBusiness.ca has compiled a list of technology that will turn those wasted hours of commuting into working hours. It’s Pimp My Ride: Productivity edition.

Hands-free communication

Any mobile worker worth his or her salt likely owns some sort of Bluetooth hands-free headset already. These wireless devices allow for drivers to chat away with two-hands on the wheel, improving safety and helping workers follow the law and avoid a costly ticket.

A device to place and receive calls is all fine and well, but in truth, workers rely on e-mail and SMS messages much more than phone calls to get work done nowadays. Enter the iLane from Waterloo, Ont.-based Intelligent Mechatronic Systems Inc. It reads e-mail, text messages, and even delivers news and weather updates on command.

iLane

Drivers can even record a voice message and send it in an e-mail as an attachment. Or choose to call a contact for a live phone call. Drivers can also check their calendar for appointment information.

The voice-controlled iLane has recently been redesigned to offer a slicker look in a small package. It can be kept in a cup holder or in the glove box, and it works in tandem with your Bluetooth headset and Bluetooth-enabled BlackBerry (other smartphones aren’t currently supported.)

An earlier version didn’t impress ITBusines.ca much in a review, but the product has been revamped since then and promises better responsiveness to voice commands. It’s also one of the very few options available on the market for sending and receiving e-mail while on the road.

iLane is on sale in Canada at Telus Mobility stores, Bell World stores, or at Amazon.ca. It retails for $399.99.

If you’re looking for a nice way to tie-in that iLane system to your car, or just want something different from a Bluetooth headset, give Yada’s Bluetooth Rearview Mirror a look. It combines a standard rearview mirror with Bluetooth voice dialing technology and a speakerphone.

Yada

Your phone’s address book is synched with the mirror and it then displays caller ID on the mirror when an incoming call is received. It also is outfitted with noise reduction and echo cancellation for good-quality phone conversations.

Related Story: Parrot Minikit gives drivers a great hands-free link to their cell phone

Yada’s mirror is sold for $149.99 at Canadian Tire.

You have the power

Mobile technology has come a long way in recent years. Powerful computing capabilities can come in small packages, fitting into the palm of your hand or on your car’s dashboard.

Unfortunately, it often seems battery technology hasn’t kept up. Every road warrior has been scorned by an unforgiving low battery warning when it came down to crunch time. To avoid suffering that fate again, pick up a cigarette lighter to AC power inverter.

Enercell

There are many such inverters available and they typically cost between $12 and $50, offering a range of wattage outputs and variety of plug-in options. Having one of these inverters waiting in your trunk or glove box can be a life saver the next time your laptop battery is depleted on the road.

This Enercell 150W inverter is powerful enough to charge or continuously power a laptop or smaller electronic devices such as a phone or camera. It offers an A/C outlet and a standard USB input to charge your portable devices. It retails for $39.99 at RadioShack.

Wi-Fi on wheels

Sometimes you need Internet on a bigger screen than your smartphone while you’re on the go. Tethering your phone isn’t always an option (depends on your carrier and your device) and not always the most convenient way to connect.

Smart Hub

There’s lots of good options to bring the Internet to your car’s interior. Mobile carriers such as Bell Canada, Telus Mobility, Rogers Wireless and Wind Mobile all offer 3G Internet sticks. Just plug them in and you’re good to surf the Web with your laptop or netbook. But your device may not have a USB port handy – the iPad for example – or maybe you want to connect more than one device at a time to the Internet. That could make car pools really productive.

Products like the Telus Smart Hub are effective at quickly and easily creating a Wi-Fi network that’s big enough to connect a small office, let alone a car. It allows connections with up to 15 wireless devices and even one wired Ethernet connection. The bandwidth is advertised as a blazing top speed of 7.2 mbps. The downside is that if you want to use this in your car, you’ll also need that A/C power inverter mentioned earlier.

MiFi

If you want something to connect multiple devices without the power inverter, Bell offers a Novatel Wireless MiFi device that will do the trick. It’s powered by a USB connection to a laptop (or the right car adapter) and provides broadband speeds to five wireless devices at a time. 

Brian Jackson is a Senior Writer at ITBusiness.ca. Follow him on Twitter, read his blog, and check out the IT Business Facebook Page.

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