It’s not difficult to understand why Toyota had reservations about bringing them onboard. And these concerns soon surfaced among automakers that second-guessed the wisdom of giving up valuable dashboard branding and—more importantly—driver data to the two tech giants.
This week, Toyota announced a comprehensive connectivity plan called the Mobility Service Platform that covers everything from car sharing to cloud-based analytics, and it’s being developed in-house by a creatively named subsidiary called Connected Car Company. “To guarantee the safety of the customer, the manufacturer must be the platform provider,” said Connected Car Company president Shigeki Tomoyama.
Instead of being tied to one or two dominant tech providers, Toyota is partnering with several different companies. It’s working with long-term partner KDDI, the Japanese telecom that has for years provided connectivity for the automaker’s G-Book telematics system. Its cloud services are provided by Microsoft, with which Toyota recently deepened its relationship, while the platform will run on the Automotive Grade Linux open-source software.
Toyota has already even joined with a rival automaker Ford to develop apps. And it’s clear that the automaker plans to leaves Apple and Google out in the cold and out of the car.
So what can we expect Toyota’s in-house connected car efforts to yield, and how will it differ or be better than CarPlay or Android Auto? While Toyota’s Entune infotainment system is one of the best available based on our tests, it still relies on third-party apps such as Pandora, iHeartRadio, and Yelp, which are common in many cars.
Last year, Toyota announced it would work with the Ford-developed SmartDeviceLink and the US automaker to develop in-house as well as third-party apps for its cars via a Toyota-supplied API. This not only would allow Toyota to supply apps similar to those used by CarPlay and Android Auto, such as for music and mapping, but also tap a car’s data, systems, and sensors to create features and functions that the Apple and Google smartphone-based platforms can’t.
For example, by tying into a car’s engine diagnostics, Toyota or a third party could develop an app that explains what a “Check Engine” light or other warning means and even set up service if required. And by tying into a car’s traction control system, an app could detect when a car hydroplanes on standing water or skids on a patch of black ice and send the info to other vehicles approaching the area.
Toyota isn’t alone in building up a tech bulwark against a potential incursion by Apple and Google. Renault/Nissan recently announced a similar connected car platform with Microsoft Azure, and this week Ford partnered with BlackBerry to develop software for the automaker’s connected vehicles. And last year, the three German luxury car rivals Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz circled the wagons to purchase the digital mapping company Here for $3.1 billion, in part to bring the mapping capability in-house, but also keep it out of the hands of Apple and others.
So while Toyota was the odd man out when CarPlay and Android Auto were first announced, its wait-and-see attitude and keeping its dashboards Apple- and Google-free could pay off.
Originally published by PCMag.com
From cars to computers, you generally get what you pay for, right? Not exactly.
As a new J.D. Power study reveals (and I’ve been saying for years), in-dash technology from mainstream automakers is as good as—if not better than—the tech from luxury car companies. “Overall owner satisfaction with new-vehicle technology averages 730,” the report says, which is not much lower than satisfaction among premium vehicle owners at 734.
I would venture to guess that most of these luxury vehicle owners only compared the in-dash tech in their car to that of other premium brands. If they evaluated it against non-luxury cars, they would probably be very disappointed. It’s also not just the technology itself, such as connectivity and number of apps. Tech in some luxury vehicles can be overly complex and more frustrating than systems in many mainstream cars.
“It’s not just how much technology you have in the vehicle, but how well it’s delivered,” said Kristin Kolodge, executive director of driver interaction & HMI research at J.D. Power. “That has to be done right.”
In too many luxury vehicles, it’s not.
BMW’s iDrive and the Mercedes-Benz Comand interface are notably problematic (one recent and egregious example being the Remote Touch system in the 2016 Lexus RX 350). While the vehicle has a large 12.3-inch screen that’s logically laid out, the mouse-like Remote Touch controller makes getting around within it and selecting items, especially smaller ones, very challenging.
Lexus’s UX is also disappointing, particularly because that company has inluded “touch” controllers since 2010, and has yet to make them user-friendly. The luxury brand would be better off just ditching Remote Touch in favor of the practical and more user-friendly touch-screen interface used in several Toyota vehicles.
But at least Lexus and Toyota both have smartphone-based connectivity for streaming music and other content that doesn’t require a subscription. The mbrace2 system I tested in a 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 included Google and Yelp for local search, Facebook feeds, and other cloud-based content. But if you don’t pay Mercedes-Benz for connectivity, the cloud content goes away.
One example of this occurred several years ago. Just as Mercedes-Benz was proclaiming it would be the first automaker to use a stereo-vision camera on its flagship S-Class to spot potential accidents ahead, Subaru introduced its EyeSight system with almost identical technology on the not-so-luxurious Legacy and Outback.
Don’t get me wrong: There are huge differences overall between luxury and non-luxury cars when it comes to performance, comfort, and convenience features (massaging seats, anyone?). But the technology gap is very narrow. And it’s closing even faster now that Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available in vehicles ranging from Volkswagen and Volvo, further leveling the playing field.
Originally published by PCMag.com
In my over two decades of covering car technology as a journalist, there’s never been a better time than right now – both from a professional standpoint as well as my own consumer perspective. The last five years or so have seen an explosion of technology features that make owning and drive a car more convenient and safer. Given that this is the week for expressing gratitude, here are five car tech features I’m most thankful for.
Driver Assist Systems
Of all the latest and greatest tech features available in modern vehicles, driver assist systems like forward-collision and lane-departure warning are the most valuable since they have the potential to save lives. More than once, I’ve taken my eyes off the road for just a second or two and had a system warn me of a vehicle slowing down ahead or that I was inadvertently veering out of my lane. And I wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t been alerted. Even better is the next step in active safety: systems such as forward-collision and lane-departure prevention that can automatically apply the brakes to avoid or mitigate a collision or steer the car back into its lane. And then there’s the convenience of driver assist systems such as active cruise control and automatic high beams that make driving not only safer but also more pleasant.
Heated Seats and Steering Wheels
Around this time of year, I really appreciate heated seats and heated steering wheels – and also the heated windshields available on vehicles from Land Rover and Volvo. Even better is a car that has remote start and allows setting the climate controls and also the heated seat settings ahead of time so that I can get into a toasty warm interior on a frigid day and avoid scraping ice from the windshield.
In addition to starting a vehicle from afar and warming or cooling the interior, remote apps also allow locking or unlocking the doors from anywhere with a data connection, locating a car on a map, checking the fuel level and other vehicle stats, finding a dealer, getting maintenance info and more. Some, like OnStar’s RemoteLink, are free and don’t require a subscription for up to five years.
Thanks to Internet connectivity, cars are becoming more like computers, smartphones, and tablets. But as with consumer electronic devices, most people who own a car don’t use and probably aren’t even aware of all the tech features that come with their vehicles.
That’s what J.D. Power and Associates found in a new report that surveyed 4,200 car buyers from April through June of this year about the tech features in their new vehicles. The report revealed that at least 20 percent of respondents “never used” more than half—16 out of 33—of the vehicle technology features mentioned in the survey.
More than half of those surveyed said they don’t use their vehicle’s voice-texting and voice-recognition systems, and 32 percent ignored in-dash apps such as Pandora and Yelp. The report noted that 38 percent didn’t care about their car’s ability to create a Wi-Fi hot spot in the cabin using built-in wireless broadband connectivity. And of those surveyed, 35 percent didn’t use their car’s automatic parking feature, 43 percent never called a “concierge service” to provide navigation directions or a restaurant reservation, and a third didn’t depend on a heads-up display to project information onto a car’s windshield.
This isn’t much different from the average person using their PC or other electronic device. I know I don’t use all of the features on my devices.
Of course, some of the tech features on cars are more expensive or come as extra cost options, so it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison to consumer electronics. According to J.D. Power, since the auto industry is expected to sell about 14 million vehicles in 2015, this means that at least 2.8 million consumers are paying for technology they’re not using.
One of the top reasons respondents cited for not wanting a specific technology feature in their next vehicle, for example, was because it “came as part of a package on my current vehicle and I did not want it.”
“In-vehicle connectivity technology that’s not used results in millions of dollars of lost value for both consumers and the manufacturers,” Kristin Kolodge, executive director of driver interaction research at J.D. Power, said in a statement.
And as with consumer electronics, if a buyer doesn’t use a feature from the beginning, they likely won’t use it at all. “The first 30 days are critical,” said Kolodge. “That first-time experience with the technology is the make it or break it stage.”
Car dealers are partly to blame since new car owners reported that if a feature wasn’t pointed out or if a dealer didn’t explain how it works, they’d probably never use it, the report found. But automakers also don’t properly train dealership staff.
“Automakers need to explain the technology to dealership staff and train them on how to demonstrate it to owners,” said Kolodge. “While dealers are expected to play a key role in explaining the technology to consumers, the onus should be on automakers to design the technology to be intuitive for consumers,” she added.
That’s where most feature-packed consumer electronics and in-car technology diverge – think about that flimsy owners’ manual that comes with your iPhone. “In many cases, owners simply prefer to use their smartphone or tablet,” Kolodge said, “because it meets their needs; they’re familiar with the device and it’s accurate. Automakers need to get it right the first time,” she added,” or owners will simply use their own mobile device instead of the in-vehicle technology.”
Originally published by PCMag.com
Car shoppers who haven’t sat in a new vehicle in several years are usually surprised when they see the latest dashboards, with their tablet-like touch screens, cloud-connected apps, sophisticated driver-assist displays, and multiple-camera views.
An article last week in the industry trade publication Automotive News told how Bill Russell didn’t realize how outdated his 2002 Chevy Silverado pickup was until he traded it in for a 2014 model.
Instead of a radio with knobs and buttons, the new pickup “has a screen with icons like the ones on his iPhone,” the article noted. And Russell, a 64-year-old resident of Harper Woods, Michigan, likes that the truck’s rearview camera helps him back the pickup without worrying about hitting anything behind him, and that he can use his phone hands-free via Bluetooth.
Like Russell, once most drivers get a taste of such advanced in-cabin technology, they want it. And in much the same way that Apple is able to get people who have a perfectly good iPhone to ditch it for the latest and greatest model, tech is causing quicker turnover in vehicle ownership.
utomotive News called the phenomenon “upgrade envy thanks to a raft of new technologies that make cars safer and easier to drive.” Karl Brauer, senior director of insights and analysis for Kelley Blue Book, said that car buying could become like shopping for smartphones due to tech.
“You don’t really need a new iPhone,” he said. “But you want one.”
Recent numbers back this theory. According to Edmunds.com, the average length of auto leases dropped to approximately 36 months in 2014 – the shortest period the car-shopping website has ever recorded. Automotive News added that “in some months, leases shrank to less than three years – not much more than the smartphone replacement cycle.”
Another example the article gave of car tech upgrade envy was Mike Fine’s. After seeing his son’s 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee with the Uconnect system that features apps such as Yelp and Pandora and onboard Wi-Fi, Fine traded in his 2011 Nissan Xterra – and also bought a Jeep Grand Cherokee. “Compared to the Xterra,” said the Hingham, Massachusetts resident, “this is a comfortable space shuttle.”
“Consumers want a seamless experience in and out of the vehicle,” Brian May, who runs Accenture’s connected vehicle business service in North America, told Automotive News. “Things they experience on an iPhone or Android are the things they want to experience in a car.”
The auto industry practically invented planned obsolescence as a marketing strategy by introducing incremental, annual model changes and larger makeovers every four years or so. But car technology didn’t really change dramatically from year to year of even decade to decade. Just think how long the cassette deck stuck around, and how the CD is still hanging on even after the advent of the iPod and in the age of streaming music.
But in just the last half decade or so, in-dash technology has changed dramatically. In 2009, the most cutting-edge in-car tech was iPod integration. In six short years, cloud connectivity has come to cars to provide everything from streaming music to online search, and even in mainstream vehicles like the Toyota Camry.
While automakers are now experiencing booming sales – and the Automotive News article attributes that partly to all the new bells and whistles being offered on new cars – tech can also be a double-edge sword. What’s considered new today can quickly become passé, and automakers are locked into much longer product cycles than consumer electronics companies.
Automakers have also struggled with creating infotainment interfaces that are not up to par with the portable device makers they’ve tried to emulate, which is one reason we’re seeing Apple and Google move into the space with CarPlay and Android Auto. And with the exception of Tesla, automakers have also dragged their feet on making software upgrades for their vehicles easy and routine.
Perhaps that’s also part of the auto industry’s planned obsolescence strategy, although I doubt it. After all, the ability to upgrade the firmware and software of a portable device certainly hasn’t slowed down the pace of iPhone sales.
Originally published by PCMag.com
The first wave of in-dash apps has attempted to replicate the portable device experience in the dashboard, and with it came dozens of popular apps such as Pandora, Yelp and Stitcher. Of course, accessing apps in the car – where your attention should be focused on driving and not on a portable device or even on an in-dash screen for too long – is totally different and potentially distracting.
Perhaps the next wave will be app and content aggregation, which we’ve seen recently with Gracenote’s Entourage application that searches all music sources in your car so that you don’t have to. Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) takes this concept a step further with a new app that’s aptly called justDrive.
Developed by Silicon Valley-based CloudCar, justDrive integrates such apps as Spotify, Twitter and Yelp into a single platform and uses off-board voice recognition to allow a driver to simply ask for what they want, whether finding a POI, a certain song or directions to a specific address. And justDrive provides this from a portfolio of apps, without the driver having to open and use separate applications. The system also allows a driver to dictate and send a tweet or SMS via voice and it will read the content of the message back to the user before sending it.
“It does the work for you by selecting from the various apps and does the communication for you,” Dr. Wolfgang Epple, director of research and technology for Jaguar Land Rover, told C3 Report during a recent demo at the LA Auto Show. And since the app lives on the smartphone and not in the dash, it can be easily updated with fresh software and new apps.
“It tells you there is a new application, and then you tell your smartphone and it does it automatically,” Epple added. “It applies to all the apps. The justDrive feature initially will be available only for Apple iOS8, with Android compatibility expected in early 2015, according to JLR.
justDrive works as part of the InControl system that was unveiled earlier this year and will be appear in certain 2015 Jaguar and Land Rover vehicles, and eventually rolled out to the entire lineup by model year 2016. InControl currently offers 17 in-dash apps, including Stitcher, iHeartRadio and Parkopedia. Both systems require that a smartphone is tethered to the vehicle for a cloud connection, and control of the apps are through the vehicle’s touchscreen or via voice recognition.
Epple noted that JLR will also integrate Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto into future vehicles. “They are alternatives though,” he said. “The nice thing about justDrive is that it doesn’t matter which phone you use. If you are a fan of iPhone and your wife is a fan of Android, then you use justDrive or InControl apps and both of them work.”
Along with Gracenote Entourage, JLR’s justDrive could represent a second wave of app and content aggregation. And while JLR has been close to the back of the pack when it comes cutting-edge infotainment, justDrive shows that it sometimes pays to not catch the first wave, as wipeouts by MyFord Touch and Cadillac CUE have shown.