The Best in Automobile Smartphone Integration

The Best in Automobile Smartphone Integration

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Chris Perez
Nov 7, 2011

Toyota recently announced Touch Life, a new feature that touts an ability to sync with select smartphones (Nokia, iPhone for now) in a manner that will mirror the display of the phone onto the 7" touchscreen outfitted in the car. Sounds cool, but how does it compare with other manufacturer offerings? And how much longer until our smartphones and cars form like Voltron?

Let's take some time today to go over some of the more advanced phone-to-car integration features being offered (or soon to be offered) by car manufacturers. These new options give us clean and integrated solutions that are attempting to make DIY solutions we may have attempted here or here feel so 2000-and-late.

Photo Credit: Ford

Ford: App Link
Ford Sync has been around for a few years now, and started out as a hands-free way to communicate with your car for entertainment and communication features via voice. It's expanded across most models and its latest enhancement, AppLink, allows the driver to access applications from a smartphone through the Sync interface of voice commands and steering wheel buttons.

This is done by offering developers a SYNC API, so they can program their apps to work and respond with the controls of the car. Pandora, Stitcher, OpenBeak, and iHeartRadio are currently supported and Ford is reportedly involved in a joint venture with Spotify to bring that on board soon as well.

AppLink is available now for select Ford models.

Photo Credit: BMW

BMW:ConnectedDrive Apps
BMW's latest mobile offering uses iOS's iPod Out feature to display the iPod interface (streamed from your iOS device) onto the car's dash alongside other driving information.

This is a pretty slick solution that gives access to all iPod functionality such as browsing your catalog, playlists, podcasts, Genius mixes, etc via the BMW iDrive Controller. BMW also has recently added a BMW Connected App that you download to your phone to add support for Facebook, Twitter, and Pandora integration. Currently these features are only supported for iOS devices, so other mobile platforms are left out in the cold.

iOS Out and Connected Apps available now on select BMW models.

Photo Credit: Toyota

Toyota: Touch Life
Touch Life allows access to some of your smartphones' functionality from the car infotainment center screen (via touch), or steering wheel controls. This all works through the development of a new connectivity protocol called MirrorLink. Users would establish the connection via apps on their smartphone, and when in drive-mode get quick access to essential features such as telephone, voice guided navigation, and music player. When the car is at a stop the app opens up full featured access to the paired device via the onscreen touch display with all the scrolling and multi-touch gestures you'd expect. How cool is that!?

Release is limited for now to select markets of the Toyota iQ city car (not US). But, we'd imagine a successful release would eventually makes its way overseas and across more models. Its also important to note that MirrorLink is just a new name to what was previously called Terminal Mode, which had been seen prototyped on Volkswagen automobiles. So this feature is something that likely won't be limited to Toyota down the road either.

Engadget got hands-on time with the Toyota Touch Life.

Obviously the Touch Life solution is the most feature-laden, but its yet to be seen how well it performs out in the real world. But we're excited about the possibilities, and glad that more and more companies are thinking of ways to integrate our mobile devices into car technology. With smartphone adoption rates and app development growing at an incredible pace it makes a lot of sense to give consumers better options. Giving the user flexibility to essentially add functionality to their cars by allowing links to smartphone software that typically outperforms the slow-to-market, feature-limited solutions coming out of the manufacturer's hub.

It sure seems like it won't be long until we're sitting at a future where all major manufacturer's provide some way to give us access to our phone's features, convenience, and simplicity. I'm sure ready for it.

How important will manufacturer-offered smartphone integration features be in your next vehicle purchase?

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