Automotive news: Smartphones present drivers with both a useful enhancement and a dangerous distraction.
Consumers accustomed to being connected wherever they go don’t want to give that up when they get into a car. Drivers stuck in traffic want to put that time to productive use.
So automakers and suppliers are devising innovative and safe ways to pair cars and smartphones so consumers can monitor the condition of the vehicle as well as new postings on Facebook.
“The automobile is no longer a communications dead zone that prohibits drivers from staying connected to friends and family,” said Anna Buettner, an analyst at iSuppli, a consulting firm that specializes in automotive electronics.
“With the expanding array of communications options, many drivers are willing to take the risk of an accident simply because they want to read or reply to a text message or check and update their preferred social media site,” Buetner wrote in a recent report. “Finding and implementing a way to safely integrate social networking and other apps in the car is more feasible than fighting the trend.”
Multimode wireless connectivity–Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and cellular–governed by flexible programmability is speeding the integration of smartphones into vehicles. But even when the goal is the same, approaches differ among automakers. The integration strategies of General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co., for example, are dramatically different.
Ford’s strategy centers on its Sync voice-activated system. Sync, developed with Microsoft Corp. and launched late in 2007, provides multiple hard and wireless connections with smartphones and other mobile devices that drivers might bring into the vehicle.
Sync revolutionized the control of MP3 players and cell phones by allowing drivers to control them through the vehicle’s existing audio controls and structured voice commands. Ford says its research has shown that Sync makes using these devices less distracting. The automaker has improved and expanded the Sync interface several times.
“We know we can do better things for our customers by allying with the companies that provide the devices and services customers already use,” said Derrick Kuzak, Ford group vice president for global product development. “What we see emerging is a mutually beneficial collaborative community where our shared customer–anyone who drives a car and owns a smartphone–is the true beneficiary.”
Ford also has introduced an application programming interface for smartphones that allows smartphone apps to run and be controlled through Sync.
The first programs to use the new Sync API are OpenBeak, Pandora and Stitcher. The vehicle’s center screen mimics each app’s smartphone appearance and function. OpenBeak provides a direct link to the Twitter social media site, while Pandora and Stitcher are popular Internet radio applications that compete with satellite radio.
Additional apps are expected to become available through the online stores operated by Apple, Android and BlackBerry.
Built-in, not brought