Using the Apple Digital AV Adapter for HDMI in a 2018 Honda Odyssey

We’ve owned a 2018 Honda Odyssey that includes the Rear Entertainment System (RES) for awhile now, but have only used it a handful of times because the built-in functionality is pretty much garbage. Starting a Blu-Ray requires craning your neck from the front seat to see the disc menu while trying to navigate the awful remote or front touchscreen by feel, and even worse — the discs don’t retain their playback position when you turn the car off, so you have to do this impossible exercise every single time you get in the car (“Hey kids, no bathrooms breaks today!”) There are also a few built-in streaming apps you can try, but they’re probably not worth using unless you add the car as a mobile device to your wireless plan because getting the car to tether over Bluetooth or as a wireless hotspot guest always takes an extra couple minutes.

In search of a better way I started to investigate using an Apple Digital AV adapter connected to an old iPad mini that we’ve already repurposed for kid use at home. I found a lot of conflicting information out there about HDCP and offline playback issues that almost made me reconsider purchasing the adapter (Apple criminally charges $49 for it), but the connection has worked flawlessly for us so far. The RES screen resolution is limited to 720p, but it scales down and displays any content encoded at a higher resolution without issue.

I tested Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and iTunes movies both in online and offline playback modes with no issues, so the kids were able to queue up a bunch of movies and shows while still at home and then watch them on the road without any Internet connection. I ran each case with iOS 11.4.1 on both an iPad Mini 4 and iPhone 8 to see if the device hardware age had any effect on the adapter results, but the two devices behaved identically. Unsurprisingly, all the discs we’ve converted to MP4 via Handbrake and stored on the devices also worked just fine.

While this approach works really well once you’re on the go, there are three downsides (four if you count Apple’s price gouging for the adapter):

  1. Cable management is frustrating. The HDMI port for the RES sits behind the center console and since there is no rear-opening to the console interior, your HDMI and Lightning cables are very visible and prone to being kicked by kids. We stuffed the iPad + adapter in the back pocket of the passenger seat, but it’s ugly.
     
  2. CarPlay and device mirroring are mutually exclusive. If you’re using the adapter to show content on the RES, you can’t use the same iOS device with CarPlay. This wasn’t a big deal for us since we had the extra iPad, but be careful if you’re thinking that you can simultaneously use your phone for CarPlay navigation or audio for the front seat.
     
  3. You have to carry an extra device around. I suppose you could leave an old iPad or iPhone in the car for this functionality, but it’s probably not a great idea if you live in a climate that gets hot or cold.

Hope this helps some other poor souls who have begrudgingly ventured into the magical land of owning a minivan. 

The Questions Awaken

A few weeks ago my 6-year-old daughter watched The Force Awakens for the first time (she loved it!) I suspected she might have a few questions during the movie, so I wrote down every single one she asked and then did some text analysis on them just for fun.

Here is the full list of questions she asked me:

  • Why does Kylo Ren have a mask and cloak like Vader?
  • Why?
  • What’s a whereabout?
  • Is that an X-Wing, Daddy?
  • Is that a Luggabeast?
  • What’s that?
  • What’s that thing?
  • Is that Kylo Ren?
  • Is that big Kylo Ren?
  • What’s that Daddy?
  • What’s that little monster that peeked out from the fan?
  • What’s that Daddy?
  • What’s that?
  • Is that Rey?
  • Is that Rey Daddy?
  • Does Rey live on a hill of the sand?
  • Where are the people who trade her for food?
  • Why does she have a whole board of marks?
  • Why does she have that?
  • What’s that Daddy?
  • What is that place Dada?
  • Where did Poe go Daddy?
  • Did Rey find the old TIE fighter and fix it?
  • What was FN2187’s name before he joined the First Order ?
  • Is Finn taking off all his Storm Trooper stuff now?
  • Is he going towards Rey’s little cabin?
  • Is that the town where Rey lives?
  • Why does his voice have to sound muffled?
  • Where’s my tiny little flamingo?
  • Why are there so many weird little monsters?
  • What is that Daddy?
  • Why are those guys trying to capture Rey and the droid? 
  • Is that the guy who trades Rey for food?
  • Where’s Maz?
  • How did it go dark?
  • Did it run out of battery?
  • Huh?
  • What’s he now?
  • Is that the cargo they took aboard the Millennium Falcon?
  • Is that the Guavian Death Gang?
  • Is that the place for hurt people?
  • Do the gangs belong to Snoke and Kylo Ren?
  • Where is the part where Rey becomes the Jedi ?
  • Is that Earth daddy?
  • What if the old Star Destroyer blew up that Earth?
  • What’s that, Daddy?
  • Why does Maz have so many weird creatures in her castle?
  • Who was the guy in the black suit?
  • What did he say?
  • Is she pretending to live in Maz’s castle?
  • Is that Vader?
  • Where’s Leia again?
  • Does Finn go to the rebel base?
  • What was that thing that was doing that thing like an elephant?
  • Where is she?
  • Is that Luke’s old lightsaber case?
  • Is that the super weapon?
  • Where are they taking Finn?
  • What does that light do?
  • Dad where are the X-Wings?
  • Is Poe the rebel who took Luke’s old X-Wing?
  • Who’s flying the Falcon?
  • Whose ship is that?
  • What’s that fire?
  • What was that golden Storm Trooper?
  • But what’s its name?
  • But why is she golden instead of white?
  • Does Luke die?
  • Does Luke die in the Last Jedi?
  • Is Padme in this one?
  • Was she in Revenge of the Sith?
  • How did she die?
  • Does this really happen?
  • What’s that beeping noise?
  • Where are they?
  • What’s Chewie doing?
  • And why does Chewie have to have that strap on him?
  • Are all those red spots the explosive charges?
  • Why did Rey have to take Finn’s jacket?
  • And Finn wasn’t?
  • Are they blowing up the planet with Luke?
  • When does Chewie come in?
  • Is Kylo Ren alive?
  • Is Luke at the top?
  • Is Luke at the very very top?

The Sad State of Parental Controls on Apple iOS

A few weeks ago I wrote about the bad shape of parental controls on Amazon Fire tablets, but it would be a mistake to assume Apple does much better with iOS. In fact, in some ways Apple is still far behind Amazon on this front, but it’s fair to say both companies could stand to invest time in improving the parental control experience.

Back to Apple — if you haven’t dug into this, iOS provides two different methods of controlling device usage:

  • Guided Access: Restricts screen time and device controls (volume, sleep, keyboard, touch), but locks the user in to a single app.
  • Restrictions: Controls which system apps and settings are accessible. Can also limit movie, TV, book, app, and Siri content by rating levels.

In the end, neither is ideal for our primary use case: allow some freedom, but ultimately control overall screen time and which applications are accessible.

I will admit that when the kids were super young (let’s say one – three-ish-years-old) Guided Access was a really great approach for the times we wanted to deliver a bit of screen time. You could open an app geared towards identifying colors, shapes, numbers, or barnyard animals and lock them into that single app for a specified period of time. They stayed in that app no matter which buttons they clicked or how they tried to mash the screen, and the volume never changed. It was a great option for that age.

But as they’ve grown older we’ve found Guided Access to be too restrictive, and the native Restrictions feature to be too open-ended. I think Restrictions probably makes a lot of sense for a teenager audience when the device is something they can always access, but we’re far from that point and it definitely doesn’t meet our needs right now.

Major Leaps Forward

I think there are two key improvements Apple could make to really enhance the current experience.

Overall Screen Time Limits

This already exists in Guided Access and should also be a feature of Restrictions for the younger age groups. I know Amazon uses the different user profiles to count usage and that iOS doesn’t have a multi-user concept, but I think it would be feasible to expose a daily time restriction which could be temporarily overridden with a PIN entry. Or even have this work the same way Guided Access does today and let the parent start the timer for a specified duration, but allow the user to switch apps.

Flexible Content Restrictions

I know this sounds like an oxymoron, but this where where I think Apple could leapfrog (that’s a parental pun) Amazon. The Fire tablet content restrictions are done simply by type — where books, video, and apps are your only separation points. What I ultimately want is the ability to group applications myself and then set time restrictions on those groups.

For example, it would be great to assign different daily time limits to each of these:

  • Games which are just for fun and don’t provide much educational value.
  • Apps which the parents believe help develop reading, writing or math.
  • Apps which are just eBooks or eBook readers we’ve populated with content.

An overall screen time limit is a good start, but it’s not helpful if the kids just spend the entire allotment cutting hair (they love those Toca Boca hair salon apps for some reason.) I’m okay letting them play that for a bit, but I’d like the ability to funnel them back towards books or apps like Endless Numbers when fun time ends. A crude way to do this would be time limits by app folders, but I’d take anything at this point.

The most critical piece here is to allow parents the ability to define these groups of apps because the groupings are going to vary from family to family and can’t just be defined by a content type third-party rating. What Apple (or the developer) believes to qualify as educational or useful in the App Store isn’t going to be consistent across each family. We love a lot of the PBS programming, but crap like the whiny Calliou kid doesn’t fly in our house even though it technically has the same content rating as other shows we do allow.

Nitpicking

As we explored using an old iPad Mini 4 (the best!) as the primary kid device I ran into a few quirks which definitely aren’t dealbreakers, but sure were annoying and caught me by surprise.

Restrictions Reset

You can turn Restrictions on or off as needed, but the specific settings you select will reset each time. There are 42 (!) different options to configure as of this writing, and you’ll need to redo all of them each time you disable and re-enable Restrictions at the top level.

Fun fact: one of the restrictions you can enable is to block App Store downloads. In order to download a new app you might naturally choose to temporarily disable Restrictions at the top level, which means you have to reset all of your other Restrictions when you turn them back on. It’s a vicious cycle which could be solved if iOS remembered your previous settings.

Touch ID Access Levels

I wanted the kids to be able to use Touch ID to access the iPad — the amount of food on their sticky fingers usually prevents this from working and provides an additional checkpoint — so it wasn’t totally open to anyone, but enrolling their fingerprint automatically meant they could access my entire 1Password vault since the app is not controlled by the Restrictions feature. I needed 1Password to be there so I could paste my Apple ID password as needed, but I also wanted to make sure the kids couldn’t get at that app and somehow trash all of our saved login information. I ultimately disabled Touch ID usage in the 1Password app settings, but that just meant I had to type my ridiculous master password every time I wanted to get at my Apple ID password to install a new app. It just feels like a step back after becoming accustomed to using Touch ID for everything. I’m not sure what the cleanest way to solve this problem is, but maybe have an option for which apps can use Touch ID when Restrictions are enabled?

After going through this process with both a Kindle Fire and iPad I’m really hopeful that Apple can move ahead in this space with iOS 12 or 13. I don’t think Amazon has much incentive to provide more granularity within the FreeTime Unlimited product and expect their inflexible controls will remain as-is for the foreseeable future. If Apple can provide parents — especially those who have already invested in the Apple ecosystem with multiple iPhones or iPads in the house — with more flexible controls, I think there’s a market which will see value in the higher price point for a low-end iPad over a Fire tablet which requires new accounts, apps, and management.

Hope these two articles helped out!