Move over, smartphone -- the car is getting smarter

Siri Eyes Free, App Radio 3, and Automatic Link are all finally making the car as smart as your iPhone

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On its touchscreen, the AppRadio 3 is largely limited to those Pioneer-specific apps -- you can't pass through the screen of car-safe apps on your smartphone, which needs to happen for broad adoption. This means Apple and Google need to figure out a way to certify apps as car-safe so that devices like the AppRadio 3 will mirror them. You can mirror a small number of native iOS apps like Calendar and Photos if you connect your iPhone 4 or later via a special USB cable. But you can control your iPhone using Siri through the App Radio, letting you ditch the Bluetooth headset and reducing the physical switching between the AppRadio and your iPhone while driving. Overall, it's a good step forward.

The new digital assistant in your car
There's more to smart cars than merging a smartphone into the stereo. Cars are computers on wheels, with sensors tracking all sorts of data, from engine temperature to speed. With GPS available via smartphones, navigation devices, and embedded services like OnStar, an item in your car is likely also tracking your location.

But that data is locked away from you. If you could access it, you could get feedback on how and where you drive, alerts on pending repair issues, and other data-based intelligence. Already, mechanics can download the car computer data to help diagnose a problem; for more than a decade, cars have come with a standard interface port to enable such downloads to diagnostic computers.

For a couple years, Progressive Insurance has been touting its Snapshot device that plugs into that diagnostic port to track your driving. Allstate now offers a similar monitoring device. The pitch is to reward good drivers with lower insurance rates by proving they are in fact good drivers, but the flip side the insurers conveniently keep quiet about is that the same spy systems also tell them whose rates to raise because of how they drive or perhaps even what neighborhoods they visit, in a form of digital redlining. The kind of abuse we've seen in health insurance based on using patient data against them (noncoverage of pre-existing conditions, cancellation of insurance for those who get sick, and so on) could easily enter the car insurance world if people adopt these monitoring systems.

That's where the $70 Automatic Link comes in. It's a device you connect to that diagnostic port to track how you drive. (Your car needs to be a 1996 or later model, and the device should be available this summer.) But the data doesn't go to your insurance company -- it goes to you. Your iPhone 4S or later accesses the data via Bluetooth as you drive, feeding into an app that provides you advice on how to drive better (such as to reduce wear and tear or improve gas mileage), alerts you to warnings based on engine codes, tracks your trips and timelines to help you optimize your regular routes, remembers where you parked so you can find your car after a night out, and calls 911 if it detects a crash. That's smart!

We're just getting on the road to the smart car future. But the onramps are now appearing.

This article, "Move over, smartphone -- the car is getting smarter," was originally published at Read more of Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at Follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter at MobileGalen. For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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