Hands-on with Mercedes-Benz's new Google integration
Mercedes-Benz was on the scene at this week's Google I/O conference showcasing its new Google services integration in a new SL convertible. The entire onscreen interface is rendered on an Apple iPhone running Mercedes-Benz's DriveStyle app. The phone is connected to the infotainment system via a Mercedes-Benz Drive Kit Plus HDMI connection and is controlled via the Comand control knob on the center console.
Going Apple-only to use Google's services at a Google conference seems a bit odd, but Mercedes-Benz's representatives tell us that the automaker is waiting for an established standard for display mirroring to be adopted by Android.
One of the main Google features that Mercedes-Benz was demonstrating is the integration of Google Places and Google's autocomplete suggestions as an alternative to address input or local destination search.
Rather than inputting the city, street, name, and address separately (which can require dozens of twists and taps of the Comand controller), we were shown Google's autocomplete algorithms finding most addresses after just three to five characters (presumably based on proximity).
When you search for a category, each destination returned is accompanied by a Google Places rating.
When asked, Mercedes-Benz told us that its Google Places' autocompletion does not favor locations previously searched for, saved to an associated Google account, or rated by members of your Google+ circles -- all features that debuted this week in the newest version of Google Maps.
Most of the data that you'd expect to see in a Google Places listing can be found in Mercedes-Benz's interface when a destination is selected. This includes phone number, address, and operating hours, if available. Clicking a phone number initiates a hands-free call; clicking an address starts navigation. There are also links to view the destination in Google Maps or Street View.
Mercedes-Benz showed us that Google's color-coded traffic data can also be viewed by selecting the appropriate map mode. We're not sure if this traffic data is weighed when the system is pathfinding a route to a destination, but, frankly, I'd be surprised if it were not.
Select the Street View option to be presented with a panoramic view of the street in front of your chosen destination. Twisting the Comand controller pans the Street View. This is useful for spotting landmarks when your destination is obstructed or difficult to spot from the road.
When parked, users can browse photos associated with the destination. Here, we see another image of the exterior of a sushi bar, but this destination's listing also included photos of the interior and of the best dishes, which can be helpful in choosing between multiple restaurants with similar ratings.
Another feature touted during Mercedes-Benz's demo is City Guide powered by Google. City Guide is another destination search function, but it's focused less on finding a specific place and more on exploration.
When you input a category, such as Nightlife, City Guide returns a sort of heat map of the area with the areas of highest concentration of destinations of that type highlighted. The hexagonal areas that are white-hot have, in this case, the most bars, red areas have fewer, and black areas have almost none. Mercedes-Benz thinks that this City Guide feature will encourage drivers to get out of their cars and explore new areas on foot.
Finally, we were shown the inevitable social integration. After logging in to your Facebook, Twitter, and, of course, Google+ accounts on the iPhone that is hosting the DriveStyle app, you can access your friends' feeds via the Comand interface. When the vehicle is in motion, there will be no visual display of these feeds, just an audible text-to-speech reading of the status updates.
Personally, I would never want to listen to an annoying robo-voice reading my friends' equally annoying Twitter ramblings or cryptic, passive-aggressive Facebook posts and can't help but wonder what kind of person actually would.
Love or hate the new social features, I was impressed by the improved speed of the new DriveStyle interface versus the Comand system that I tested in the 2013 Mercedes-Benz SL550 Convertible. If it can figure out how to bring this Google Maps and Places integration to users running Google's own Android platform, I think Mercedes-Benz will have a winner on its hands.
Mercedes-Benz's DriveStyle app and the Drive Kit Plus interface will be rolling out in the next generation of the automaker's vehicles.