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Driving Your Smartphone: Automakers Rev Up Connectivity

by /  / Updated  / Source: The Detroit Bureau

Mobile to be more mobile

May.28.201500:34

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It’s becoming more difficult to walk – or drive — away from your smartphone.

By this time next year as many as 40 different vehicles will be equipped with the new Apple CarPlay technology. Dozens more will feature Google’s Android Auto – or come equipped with both. The technologies are designed to make it easy for a motorist to access some of the most popular smartphone apps through a vehicle’s infotainment system.

The manufacturers argue it would be safer too, by cutting down on distracted driving.

According to research by Strategy Analytics, there are 2.3 billion smartphones in use around the world, something General Motors CEO Mary Barra recognized during an appearance in California this week. “For most of us, smartphones are essential,” she declared.

“I can’t think of any other physical possession that would help determine which brand of car a person would buy.”

GM’s big Chevrolet division will add both CarPlay and Android Auto to 14 of its models in 2016, including the next-generation Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid and the redesigned Chevy Malibu sedan.

Hyundai beat GM to the punch by announcing earlier in the week it will add Android Auto to its 2016 Sonata sedan line.

Boosting Demand

Demand for smartphone integration is strong – and likely will require manufacturers to offer both Apple and Google Android capabilities or risk alienating some potential buyers, suggests David Sargent, a vice president at research firm J.D. Power and Associates. “I can’t think of any other physical possession that would help determine which brand of car a person would buy.”

As a result, GM and crosstown rival Ford aren’t taking chances and will offer both the Apple and Google systems on their vehicles.

Power’s new Tech Choice survey underscored the interest in systems like CarPlay and Android Auto which go a significant step beyond the Bluetooth audio links already widely available in many of today’s vehicles.

Chevy and other automakers have been working closely with both Apple and Google on the new systems. “You want the user experience to be familiar,” explained Saejin Park, GM’s Director of Innovation. Instead of having to look at their smartphone, a motorist would find an app like the Spotify audio service pop up on the 2016 Malibu’s touchscreen display. Most functions will be executed by voice commands.

Mobile to be more mobile

May.28.201500:34

Don’t expect all smartphone apps to operate through CarPlay or Android Auto. The systems will be programmed to handle a relatively limited number, mostly audio services like Spotify, as well as NPR, CBS and Major League Baseball. A motorist also will have access to the phone’s contact list, calendar and text messages.

Some observers may question the logic of adding even more smartphone features to a vehicle considering that distracted driving is blamed by federal regulators for about 11 percent of automotive accidents. GM officials contend that systems like CarPlay and Android Auto could actually improve safety by getting motorists to stop looking at their smartphone screens, using instead text-to-voice technology.

Race heats up

The race to build ever-smarter infotainment and telematics systems has been heating up in recent years.

GM’s pioneering OnStar system – which offers an assortment of safety, convenience and security functions – has been widely copied by manufacturers as diverse as Hyundai and Mercedes-Benz. Chrysler, Audi and Chevrolet are among the brands now offering built-in 4G LTE connectivity and WiFi hotspots.

The entertainment factor is a big selling point but automakers also plan to tap more practical purposes. When Tesla Motors recently announced an update to its Model S battery car it revealed that it would re-program those vehicles wirelessly, rather than requiring owners to come in for service. Next year, OnStar will launch its new remote diagnostics technology which can, for example, alert a motorist when a vehicle’s battery is beginning to fail.

More from The Detroit Bureau:

All these technologies provide a number of new digital access points into the vehicle, and not everyone is excited about that. Consumer Reports magazine this week launched a petition drive asking Congress to set tough new security standards for onboard auto computer systems.

“While most experts agree that car hacking today isn't easy, they also agree that the real question is not 'if' but 'when,’” wrote CR Vice President Chris Meyer.

Despite such concerns, industry-watchers say that tomorrow’s vehicles will feature at least as much connectivity as the typical person can access at home or the office, with smartphones becoming an essential part of the driving experience.

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