The next frontier in car technology is apps. Automakers are just now integrating smartphone apps into their cars, offering familiar services through the car's interface.
Ford was first to put apps in its cars, bringing out Pandora 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.
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 control various functions using the car's stereo controls. MyLink will launch on select 2012 Chevrolet vehicles, eventually expanding through the lineup.
Buick IntelliLink offers the same app integration as Chevy MyLink, and will launch with the same app availability. Both MyLink and IntelliLink require the Pandora or Stitcher app to be loaded and running on a smartphone. IntelliLink will be available on the 2012 LaCrosse, Verano, and Regal.
Toyota announced its Entune app integration at the beginning of this year, and will begin to roll it out in 2012 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. 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.
Only available for iPhone, BMW ConnectedDrive is available now on some 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.
Mini's Connected app works the same as the BMW ConnectedDrive integration. Again, it is only available for the iPhone, and you must install the Connected app. Along with Facebook, Twitter, and Google search, it includes a few more features such as a driving efficiency coach, music that changes mix depending on driving style, and a set of playful voices that comment on your driving. Pandora is also integrated separately.
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.
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 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.
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.
The Smart Drive app is only lightly integrated with the Smart car, and serves as a navigation, phone, and music system. Its navigation feature, a subscription service, turns the phone into a portable navigation device, and displays fuel prices at nearby gas stations. It has its own phone interface, designed for use while driving, making phone controls in the car unnecessary. It is only available for the iPhone.