The problem with car tech, especially the cutting edge, in-cabin stuff, is that it takes its sweet time winging its way down under. Take, for instance, the apps that run from your car's entertainment system.
In the States, Ford was first to put apps in its cars, bringing out Pandora internet radio integration in the Fiesta late last year. OpenBeak, a Twitter app, and Stitcher, which streams audio programming from the internet, have also been announced, as has iHeartRadio on BlackBerry.
To enable integration, Ford makes its Sync AppLink API available to developers, who can modify their apps to use Sync's in-car voice and manual controls. To use the apps, they have to be loaded and running on your phone, at which point the car's display will show the interface and the in-car controls will become available.
Apps: Pandora, OpenBeak, Stitcher, iHeartRadio
Australian outlook: we were disappointed to find out that sat nav and the MyTouch Ford were omitted from the otherwise excellent new Ford Focus, so we're not holding our breaths on this AppLink turning up within the next year.
GM announced its app integration this year, using the MyLink name for Chevy models and IntelliLink for Buick. This app integration comes as part of an overhaul of the infotainment system, which adds features such as voice control over digital music selection. With this app integration, which will launch with Pandora and Stitcher, you will see the app interfaces on the car's display, and you'll be able to control various functions using the car's stereo controls.
Apps: Pandora, Stitcher
Australian outlook: again, we doubt it will be available within the next year. When it does arrive, it will probably be available first on overseas-developed Holden models — think Cruze, Barina, Captiva and Malibu, rather than the Commodore or Caprice.
Buick's IntelliLink offers the same app integration as Chevy MyLink, and will launch with the same app availability.
Apps: Pandora, Stitcher
Australian outlook: some models in the US's mildly upscale Buick range come straight from GM's European outpost, Opel. So, maybe, just maybe, IntelliLink will come down under when Opel launches in Australia in 2012. Nah, who are we kidding?
Toyota announced its Entune app integration at the beginning of this year and will begin to roll it out in the company's 2012 US models, such as the Prius V.
At launch, it will include more apps than other automakers' systems. Along with music through Pandora and iHeartRadio, Toyota has included Bing search, OpenTable restaurant reservations and MovieTickets.com. Entune will work on iPhone, Android and BlackBerry devices.
The system only requires that you install the Entune app on the smartphone. Once connected to the car through Bluetooth or a cable, the Entune app will make the other apps available through the car interface, which includes voice and manual control.
Australian outlook: we played with two thirds of Toyota Australia's new entertainment and nav system range at the launch of the face-lifted Hilux recently and Entune was nowhere in sight. So, unless we missed a stash of rabbits in the Hilux's flatbed, Entune's won't be coming here in the short term.
Only available for iPhone, BMW ConnectedDrive can be found now on some US-bound models. With the ConnectedDrive app installed and running, a number of connected apps become available through the car's interface.
For Facebook and Twitter, the car will display status updates. Google search integrates with the navigation system, allowing for location-specific searches. Pandora integration also works, but is not part of the ConnectedDrive app. Instead, you must be running Pandora on the phone, at which point it becomes available as an audio source on the BMW stereo.
Apps: Google, Facebook, Twitter, Pandora
Australian outlook: currently in Australia ConnectedDrive-equipped models (the 5-Series, 6-Series and 7-Series) only offer digital radio.
Audi Online Services is a little different from true app integration. It requires no smartphone, as the car comes with an embedded cellular connection. The car uses that data connection to power Google search, a special version of Wikipedia that focuses on nearby locations, and a few other services.
Audi Online Services is currently available on the A8, A7 and A6 models in the US.
Nissan Carwings is not so much app integration into the car, but an app for the car. This app connects to the telematics service for the electric Nissan Leaf. It lets you remotely control a few functions specific to electric cars, such as telling the car when to start charging the battery and running the climate control system, to get the car to a comfortable temperature while it is still connected to the grid.
Australian outlook: we've got our fingers firmly crossed that Carwings will be fitted to the Leaf when it's launched here locally in 2012.
The Mercedes-Benz Mbrace app connects to the Mercedes-Benz telematics service, allowing features such as remote door unlocking and roadside assistance. It lets you send destinations to the car's navigation system and includes a concierge service, with a live operator that can look up business locations.
Australian outlook: high-end versions of the revised C-Class feature a Comand system that's able to connect to the internet via your phone's Bluetooth connection, allowing you to surf the web, do Google destination searches, as well as import routes and itineraries from Google Maps. Hopefully this means that Mbrace is around the corner for us.
The Smart Drive app is only lightly integrated with the Smart car, and serves as a navigation, phone and music system. Its subscription navigation service that turns your smartphone into a portable navigation device and displays fuel prices at nearby petrol stations. It has its own phone interface, designed for use while driving, making phone controls in the car unnecessary, and is only available for the iPhone.
Australian outlook: in some Australian states it's illegal to operate a phone whilst a car's engine is on, so this one might be trickier from a legal perspective than from a technical standpoint.