For some time now, carmakers have been focused on allowing customers to use smart phones and other connected devices inside vehicles. The idea, for the most part, was to leverage the customer’s data plan, with the manufacturer allowing certain apps on the customer’s cell phone to be controlled from the head unit or steering wheel.
Then, earlier this month, two car companies announced agreements with wireless carriers and a wireless carrier introduced an application to curb distracted driving. It seems more a coincidence than a trend, but it’s worth noting.
Audi named T-Mobile USA as the U.S. wireless carrier for Audi Connect systems in Audi luxury vehicles. Features include voice-activated Google Earth, Google Local Search, and Sirius Traffic information with Google Earth imagery. Customers can also get news, weather, and fuel prices, and Audi Connect can turn the vehicle into a secure mobile Wi-Fi hotspot so passengers can access the Internet.
The Audi services are enabled with a T-Mobile SIM card inserted into the Audi MMI Navigation Plus system and connected to T-Mobile’s network. T-Mobile SIM cards will be included with the vehicle, and customers can sign up for a service plan at the time of vehicle sale or during or after the six-month complimentary trial period. Service plans are approximately $25-30 per-month.
Audi’s rationale is safety and convenience. Audi Connect’s search features are an extension of the vehicle’s navigation system, and features are appropriately limited while the vehicle is moving, except to passengers.
Combating range anxiety appears to be a rationale for Ford’s agreement with AT&T to connect the Ford Focus Electric, which will enter production in late 2011. Focus Electrics will be connected to a secure cloud-based server through an embedded AT&T cellular connection in the car. The server will store information provided by the wireless module, and customers can use a MyFord Mobile app, available for most smartphones, to obtain current and projected state of charge information, including estimated range and the amount of charge time necessary for additional distances. With a Microsoft value-charging feature, owners can program vehicle charging based on utility input, allowing the car to start charging immediately or when electricity prices are lowest.
Sprint later this year will offer Sprint Drive First, an app created by Location Labs to help wireless consumers safely manage their mobile devices and focus on driving while they are behind the wheel. When driving is detected, Sprint Drive First will lock the driver’s cell phone screen and redirect calls to voice mail. It will also block text-message alerts and auto-respond to the message sender that the driver is currently unavailable. It will make exception for up to three key contacts and three mobile applications, such as GPS navigation. Parents or will be able to configure Drive First via a web portal. The app will debut on Android phones in the third quarter and will cost $2 extra per-month.