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All New GM Cars Will Soon Have iPhone/iPad Integration

Beginning with its 2013 model year cars, which are now available from Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac dealerships, General Motors is manufacturing what it refers to as "connected cars." These vehicles integrate with the iPhone or iPad and GM's own OnStar service. Jason R. Rich takes a closer look at how iOS mobile devices play a growing role in how drivers operate and experience their vehicles, and how in-car infotainment systems have changed forever.
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When shopping for a new car, chances are that you'll look at its features, such as the power of the engine, its fuel efficiency, the comfort of the seats, its safety rating, and its price. Within the past year, however, one of the most sought-after features among most new car buyers is the technology within the vehicle and how it interacts with wireless mobile devices.

As you're about to discover, GM has become a pioneer in integrating the technology within its vehicles with the iPhone and iPad, allowing drivers and passengers to control and interact with their vehicle in new and exciting ways.

Gone forever are in-car cassette players, CD players, and even stand-alone AM/FM or Sirius/XM satellite radio receivers. The AM/FM/Satellite radio receivers are now part of the car's in-dash infotainment system.

Starting with the 2013 model year cars, many GM cars began offering iPhone and iPad integration with the vehicle's in-dash infotainment system and OnStar. This integration is being adapted in a variety of different ways, based on the vehicle model, yet all focus on offering what GM refers to as a "connected car" that simultaneously utilizes built-in, beamed-in, and brought-in technologies that seamlessly work together.

What's interesting about the GM initiative to include cutting-edge technology and iPhone/iPad integration into its vehicles is that it began doing this initially with its lowest-cost Chevrolet Sonic and Spark vehicles (which are popular first new car options among college-age students who are fully iPhone literate), as well as its higher-end Cadillac models (which appeal to older and wealthier drivers).

Currently, every new GM car offers a built-in, in-dash infotainment system, which often includes a full-color touch screen displayed that can be used to control music, radio, navigation, infotainment, hands-free cellular phone communication, and certain dashboard-related functions (see Figure 1). This infotainment system works seamlessly with OnStar and allows for the connection of an iPhone or iPad either via a wireless Bluetooth connection or using a USB cable.

Figure 1 Built into the dashboard of the 2013 Sonic is an interactive infotainment system with touch screen

OnStar-Related Functions Can Be Controlled or Accessed from an iPhone/iPad

OnStar is a subscription-based service that has been included within GM vehicles since 1995, but it has evolved considerably over the years. Today, it offers emergency services, such as automatic crash response and crisis assist, as well as turn-by-turn navigation, vehicle diagnostics, security (including roadside assistance), and remote services (such as the ability for an OnStar representative to remotely unlock a vehicle's door or help locate and retrieve a stolen vehicle).

Thanks to iPhone/iPad integration and GM's proprietary OnStar Remote Link app (see Figure 2), a vehicle owner can now auto-start or unlock their vehicle remotely from their iOS mobile device from anywhere, plus monitor the car's fuel level, tire pressure and oil. Also, while a driver is at home or the office, for example from their iPhone, an address can be found from a Contacts database listing and then wirelessly sent to the vehicle's in-car navigation system. So when the vehicle is turned on, the driver's destination is already preprogrammed into the vehicle's navigation system and is ready to go.

Figure 2 The OnStar Remote app allows drivers to access details about their OnStar-enabled vehicle remotely—plus lock or unlock doors and even start the engine

Utilize Your iPhone's Siri Feature Directly from Your Vehicle While Driving

Yet another cutting-edge, yet simple way iPhone/iPad integration is being incorporated into GM cars is with the introduction of Siri Eyes Free. Once an iPhone or iPad is wirelessly linked to a vehicle via Bluetooth (a process that needs to be done only once and takes less than one minute), a driver can tap the voice recognition button built into the car's steering wheel or tap the voice recognition button displayed on the in-car infotainment system's screen, and then activate and work with Siri that's running on their iOS mobile device and that uses the phone's 3G or 4G (LTE) cellular Internet connection.

Designed by Apple, Siri Eyes Free offers many of the hands-free, voice-controlled options Siri currently offers to iPhone/iPad users, but allows drivers to use these features safely while they're focused exclusively on the road, and without ever needing to look at the iOS device's screen.

What's different between Siri Eyes Free and regular Siri is that when used within a vehicle, Siri connects to the car's infotainment system (utilizing the microphone and speakers built into the vehicle), and only features that can be utilized without Siri displaying information on a screen are available.

For example, Siri Eyes Free can help you initiate a call. You simply activate Siri Eyes Free and say, "Call John Doe at home," for example. While driving, you can also ask Siri for the current weather. She will then speak the response, but not display an extended weather forecast.

You can also use Siri Eyes Free to do things like help you find the closest Chinese restaurant, ATM, or gas station; tell you the latest scores from your favorite sports team; or compose and send an email or text message.

Upon request, Siri will also read aloud your latest incoming text or email messages and allow you to reply to those messages verbally—always without displaying any information on the phone's screen.

In most situations, Siri Eyes Free will be heard within the entire vehicle through the car's infotainment system, but can be overridden by the driver to be heard exclusively through a standard wireless Bluetooth headset that's already paired with the iPhone.

If you have music stored on your iPhone, it's possible to use Siri Eyes Free to find and play specific songs, playlists, or albums, which will automatically be heard through the car's infotainment system. Thus, there's no more fumbling with radio dials or the iPhone, which would require a driver to take his eyes off the road to find a song that's stored on a mobile device.

If you ask Siri Eyes Free how to get to a specific location from your current location, by saying something like, "How do I get home from here?," Siri will provide voice-based, turn-by-turn directions utilizing the Maps app that's built into the iPhone, but will not display the Maps screen on the iPhone itself.

BringGo Offers Low-Cost In-Car Navigation Powered by the iPhone

Yet another way GM has cut costs, yet has added powerful iPhone integration within some of its new and upcoming vehicles is through the BringGo navigation app. Instead of adding a full in-vehicle navigation system into its cars, which typically adds upwards of $1,000 to $1,500 to a vehicle's price, an iPhone user can install the BringGo app on their iPhone (and a similar app directly within their vehicle's infotainment system) and activate it for between $50.00 and $60.00. The $60.00 option includes map upgrades for two years.

Once activated, BringGo offers a full-featured navigation system that's running on the iPhone, but allows drivers to access it from the infotainment system's screen within their vehicle (see Figure 3). BringGo displays detailed maps on the infotainment system's screen, offers voice-based turn-by-turn directions, and includes all the features you'd expect from a much more expensive in-car navigation system. However, it's all actually run from your iPhone, and uses the phone's cellular Internet connection. Thus, as you leave your vehicle, you can continue using the app to navigate around on foot, for example.

Figure 3 BringGo runs on the iPhone and uses the phone's cellular data connection, but provides a compatible GM vehicle with a full-featured navigation system for $60.00 or less

The BringGo app also fully integrates with other apps and features within your iPhone, so you can look up addresses or access addresses from your Contacts database.

BringGo works with 2013 and 2014 model year Chevrolet Spark and Sonic vehicles, but plans are underway to incorporate this type of iPhone-controlled navigation system into other GM vehicles that don't already have a built-in navigation system.

What's Next for 2014 Model Year and Beyond Cars

iPhone integration with GM cars is still in its infancy, as is how each vehicle's in-dash infotainment system and the OnStar system can interact with an iOS mobile device. Integration with OnStar, Siri Eyes Free, and BringGo are already available in some new GM vehicles, but that's just the beginning.

GM, in conjunction with a handful of app developers, is working on new ways to manage and control music and other content that's retrieved from the Internet via the iPhone (or iPad) cellular data connection, but accessible to the driver and vehicle's passengers from the in-dash infotainment system.

Already available are in-vehicle infotainment system apps for Pandora (an Internet-based radio app for music), Stitcher (an Internet-based talk radio app), and TuneIn (an Internet-based international radio app). They all work directly with the iPhone apps, so your existing Pandora account, for example, can be accessed and enjoyed from a compatible GM vehicle.

Beyond the fast-evolving work that's being done to make new GM cars integrate with the iPhone or iPad, the company has also announced that starting with 2015 model year cars, 4G LTE Internet connectivity will be built directly into the vehicles and connect to the AT&T Wireless cellular data network. Not only will this allow a vehicle to serve as a Wi-Fi hotspot for all Internet-enabled devices but it will also dramatically open the door for more types of information and content that the vehicle itself can retrieve from the Internet to enhance a driver or passenger's experience.

Meanwhile, according to Apple, more than a dozen car manufacturers, including BMW and Ferrari, are working into incorporate Siri Eyes Free capabilities and other forms of iPhone integration into their respective vehicles.

Note: All photos courtesy of General Motors.

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