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Siri Eyes Free Integrates With a Growing Number Of New Cars

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Jason R. Rich introduces you to the iPhone's Siri Eyes Free features and explains the pros and cons of using it while driving in a "connected car" from a manufacturers such as GM, BMW, and Honda.

The concept of people being able to talk to their cars has been a staple theme in science fiction for decades. K.I.T.T. from the television series Knight Rider (1982-1986) is just one example of a car that conversed freely with its driver (Michael Knight).

Thanks to the Siri Eyes Free feature that's built into the iPhone and the capability of this smartphone to link wirelessly with some of the 2013 and 2014 model year cars from car brands such as Chevrolet, science fiction and the possibilities in reality are quickly merging.

Like the regular version of Siri that's built into the newest iPhones and iPads, Siri Eyes Free is also built into iOS 6 and the soon-to-be-released iOS 7 operating system. It allows users to access popular iPhone features and apps using only their voice.

Siri Eyes Free Differs a Bit from Siri

When you use Siri, information that's requested is often displayed on the iOS device's screen. Siri Eyes Free, however, offers much of the same functionality as Siri, but turns off the iPhone's screen altogether. Thus, it offers only verbal responses to a user's requests, commands, and questions.

Siri Eyes Free offers the perfect solution to drivers who must pay attention to the road, yet who want to access content from their Internet-connected iOS mobile device to initiate calls, look up information, access email or text messages, or obtain turn-by-turn driving directions to a specific location (using the Maps app).

Access Siri Directly from Your Car via the iPhone

When an iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, or one of the latest iPhone models is paired with a compatible car via Bluetooth, drivers can press the Siri or voice recognition button that's built into their steering wheel or their car's in-dash infotainment system. This activates Siri Eyes Free on the iPhone while the phone remains in a pocket, purse, or glove compartment. There is never a need for a driver to search around for their iPhone or even momentarily divert their eyes to the phone's screen.

Thanks to Siri Eyes Free, compatible cars now have access to GPS navigation via the Maps app; can utilize Internet connectivity; and be used for a growing selection of voice-activated tasks, such as accessing weather forecasts, finding nearby gas stations, looking up or adding appointments to the Calendar app, obtaining sports scores, locating nearby restaurants (and making dining reservations), and playing music that's stored on the iOS device.

Again, all responses from Siri Eyes Free are spoken, not displayed on a screen, allowing the driver's attention to continuously remain on the road for safety.

When You’re Driving, If You Need To See it, Siri Won’t Show it

Siri Eyes Free does not handle features that would ordinarily require Siri to display content on the screen. For example, if you ask for a weather forecast, Siri Eyes Free will say the current temperature, but will not display a graphic-intensive extended forecast on the screen. Likewise, Siri Eyes Free will read aloud an incoming email or text message and allow a response to be verbally created, but the message will not appear on users' screens as they're driving.

All conversations between the driver and Siri are conducted through the speaker(s) and microphone built into the vehicle itself—not through the iPhone or a Bluetooth headset that can otherwise be linked to the phone. Thus, privacy between Siri and the driver isn't possible, as all in-vehicle passengers will hear the interactions. The benefit of this is that music or audiobooks stored on the iPhone, for example, can be played wirelessly through the vehicle's speaker system for all to enjoy.

Siri Compatibility Is Here, Thanks to GM

Apple announced Siri Eyes Free and the capability for the iPhone to link with compatible cars about a year ago. Most recently, the company began calling this initiative “Siri In Your Car.” However, it wasn't until GM released the 2013 Chevrolet Spark and Sonic car models that iPhone users got their first preview of this cutting-edge feature at work.

In the near future, vehicles from Audi, BMW, Ferrari, Honda, Jaguar, Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz, and Toyota will also be compatible with this iPhone feature, in conjunction with the in-dash infotainment systems built into their respective 2013 or 2014 model year vehicles.

How each vehicle manufacturer will implement Siri Eyes Free and wireless iPhone integration into their in-dash infotainment systems will vary greatly. What's important to understand is that while Apple updates its iOS operating system and iOS mobile devices annually, the various car manufacturers are typically on a five-year design and manufacturing cycle for new car models.

Thus, to incorporate Siri Eyes Free into their newest vehicles, car manufacturers need to adopt an entirely new approach to vehicle design and ultimately streamline the process dramatically when it comes to the in-dash infotainment systems.

Using Siri Eyes Free Requires a Bit of Practice

The ultimate goal of Siri Eyes Free is to allow a driver to press a single button located on their steering wheel, activate their iPhone remotely, and then take advantage of the phone's 3G/4G (LTE) Internet connection to transform their iPhone and the car they're driving into a hands-free and eyes-free virtual assistant.

To accomplish this task, even experienced iPhone users who have mastered how to utilize Siri will experience a slight learning curve because communicating with an iPhone using only one's voice while driving and not having access to the phone's screen is an entirely new skill and experience.

Handling certain tasks, such as initiating a call, are straightforward. Simply press the voice recognition button on the car's steering wheel after the iPhone is wirelessly paired to the vehicle (a process that needs to be done once and that takes about one minute).

Next, to access a contact that's stored within the iPhone's Contacts app and initiate a call, simply say, "Call John Smith at work," for example. Alternatively, you can state the command, "Dial" and then speak the phone number you want to call.

Likewise, the command "Play" (followed by a song title, album title, or artist's name) or the commands "Read incoming text," "Compose an email," or "Check my schedule for today" work the same way whether you're using Siri or Siri Eyes Free.

If you ask Siri to read an incoming text message, and the message asks you to meet a friend for lunch tomorrow at 2 p.m., activate Siri and verbally check the Calendar app to determine your availability. You can then verbally reply to that text message—all within a short period of time, using only your voice, and without ever touching or looking at your iPhone.

Other tasks that you can utilize via Siri, such as finding a restaurant and then making a reservation, or accessing movie listings and finding the closet theater that's playing a certain movie, are handled slightly differently using Siri Eyes Free.

For example, if you ask a question such as "What is the state flag of Massachusetts?", Siri will display the flag on the iPhone's screen, but Siri Eyes Free will inform you that the requested task is not possible while you're driving.

Any time you leave your vehicle or manually activate a Bluetooth headset to use in conjunction with your iPhone, Siri Eyes Free will automatically deactivate and give you full access to all of Siri's regular features, including the full use of the iPhone's touch screen.

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