LOS ANGELES--Earlier this year Mini said it would integrate Web radio and other smartphone apps with its cars, but gave little detail of how the system would work. At the 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show, we had a Mini representative to give us a demo of its new ConnectedDrive system.
To answer our most immediate question, Mini developed its own iPhone app, so Web radio, Twitter, and the other functions it is offering actually reside on the phone, using its processor power and data connection. With the iPhone connected to the car's USB port, control of the app gets taken over by the Mini's onscreen interface.
Added to the list of audio sources on the Mini's LCD was Web radio, right along with satellite radio, AM, and FM. That Web radio entry only appears when a phone bearing the Mini ConnectedDrive app is hooked up. The Web radio feature of the Mini app lets you listen to thousands of radio stations that stream their audio to the Internet.
The Mini ConnectedDrive app also offers Google Local Search, Twitter, and Facebook. The interfaces for each of these functions have been designed by Mini to avoid on-road distraction. For example, the Twitter feature does not let you type in a Tweet. Instead, the car comes up with canned Tweets that you can send.
This Tweet function is kind of brilliant, as it uses data the car knows, such as location, current temperature, or how long you've been driving. It can take this data and punch it into Tweet templates, letting you easily update Twitter with your location or what a nice day it is while you're driving around. Mini suggests this feature will encourage social networking amongst Mini owners, making it possible for them to enjoy a drive together while keeping organized. For example, a lead car could Tweet direction changes. Users will also be able to create their own Tweet templates.
We weren't shown the Facebook or Google local search functions, but Mini assured us they would be designed to avoid distraction. One idea behind integrating these apps with a car interface is that drivers will be less likely to try and Tweet or look at Facebook on their phones.
Mini suggested it would build more functionality into its ConnectedDrive app as time went on. Further, the fact that the iPhone app interface now exists in the car will let Mini incorporate interfaces for other apps.
We also got to see a demonstration of another feature we had been hearing about, iPod-Out. This new feature, which is incorporated into iPods and iPhones, lets the device send a remote interface out to a compatible screen through its cable. Mini has made its system compatible with iPod-Out.
The Apple-designed interface appearing on the Mini's LCD showed track information along with cover art. We were able to look at normal music library categories, such as album, artist, and genre, and select music by using the controls in the car.
An advantage to iPod-Out is that it should never show the kind of sluggishness we've seen with other iPod integration systems, which have to get raw data from an iPod and replicate it within their own interfaces.
We were also shown that Apple's Genius Playlist functionality is also ported to the Mini's LCD. While listening to a particular song, we chose this playlist option, and were treated to a series of songs similar to that which had been playing.
For other smartphones, Mini is looking at a new standard being developed called terminal mode, which should offer similar functionality as iPod-Out.
The Mini ConnectedDrive app is currently available in Europe, and will come out in the U.S. in January 2011.