Last week Harman International acquired Aha Mobile, a two-year-old firm that converts Web-based (“cloud”) content – including social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter – to streaming mobile radio.
“Delivering safe and convenient Internet access to mobile users is one of the biggest challenges facing the infotainment industry,” said Harman CEO Dinesh Paliwal. “In particular, the rapid growth of social networking through platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and others must be carefully managed in the automotive environment to prevent driver distraction.”
That’s for sure. But they must be way ahead of me. I’m barely comfortable with Internet radio; unable so far to match from home the variety, sound quality and ease of use I get from satellite radio in the car. I know what satellite channels I like and I can switch from one to another with only the briefest glance (hands on wheel/eyes on road).
I am also familiar with Facebook and Twitter – on a large display at home. I can scan a page quickly and click on whatever seems interesting, which might be a video on Facebook or an article referenced on Twitter. But how would Facebook and Twitter work in a car?
For a clue, I downloaded the Aha Radio iPhone app, got it to connect to Facebook, and listened to a few updates. It was easier than I thought it might be, but on my iPod I could read the names of my Facebook friends and see their profile photos. Presumably I would not see the images if I were driving. Like any other in-vehicle application, the effectiveness of Aha Mobile or any other app that draws on cloud content will depend upon its human/machine interface.
OnStar understands that. The other big announcement in automotive electronics last week was OnStar’s “top-to-bottom realignment” of its long-term strategy, which revealed that the firm is testing technology that would allow subscribers to update their Facebook status messages through audio recordings and/or listen to their most recent news feed messages through the OnStar Virtual Advisor service. Like Aha.
“Facebook and texting are both technologies that people know that they aren’t supposed to use while driving, but they still use them anyway,” OnStar communications manager Jim Korbus wrote in reply to my “Why Facebook?” question. “We can’t prevent them from doing that, but we can offer safe services that lessen the distraction while still offering connectivity options.”
These are in-vehicle apps worth watching – or listening to.