My weekend (not) using the OnStar iPhone app

Last weekend I had a chance to test-drive GM's new OnStar app for iPhone in a 2011 Buick Regal. I barely used the app, which may or may not be a good thing depending on how you look at it.

This screenshot of OnStar MyLink shows vehicle data such as oil and fuel status, average fuel economy, and mileage.
This screenshot of OnStar MyLink shows vehicle data such as oil and fuel status, average fuel economy, and mileage. OnStar

General Motors recently released a suite of iPhone and Android apps for OnStar and 2011 Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, and GMC models as a first step toward improving in-vehicle communications technology. I was eager to take the OnStar MyLink app for a spin in a 2011 Buick Regal during a road trip from New York to Boston, but I was surprised at how little opportunity I had to use it. OnStar's MyLink app is primarily a safety application for emergency situations, so not finding opportunity to use it was a good thing. But if the app is a step toward meeting consumers' increasingly savvy technology expectations, it fell a bit flat.

Judging by MyLink's rating on iTunes, other people felt the same way. An average of 170 reviews yielded a two-star average rating. Granted, dragging down the app's rating were a few dozen one-star ratings from irate OnStar subscribers griping that the app didn't work for their 2007 Cadillac Escalade or other earlier model vehicles. And while I could see their point, it's not fair to trash an app because new technology was released after your purchased your vehicle. However, a dearth of functionality is.

OnStar MyLink has, at best, a bare-bones set of features: It can tell you basic vehicle information, such as the VIN number, oil status, tire pressure, and preferred car dealership--information you might need if you've been in a car accident and need to tow the vehicle for repair. But it doesn't tell you other helpful data, such as the license plate, make, model, or year. Go figure. The OnStar app can act as a very rudimentary trip meter, letting you view the vehicle's lifetime mileage, trip mileage, average fuel economy, fuel levels, and available range, but it doesn't allow you to store additional data for record keeping.

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