With OnStar, Ford Sync and a host of other innovations that roll out at the Consumer Electronics Show and at auto shows, cars and smartphones are increasingly interacting, going beyond hands-free calling and voice control of the music to security and safety features.
The latest offering is Automatic, an app as well as a device that plugs into your car's data port (where available) and relays everything from advice about driving to the location of your parking spot to your iPhone. It can also call for help and notify your pre-selected loved ones if you crash.
No Backseat Driver
Made by Automatic Labs Inc., Automatic, available in May for iOS, accesses data already stored in your car's "black box," which records braking and acceleration, emissions and other information, but allows the user to easily access the information just by tapping the touchscreen. Automatic says an Android version is in the works and will ship this fall.
You can pre-order now online for $69.95, and there is no monthly subscription fee. Don't order it for a classic car or an old jalopy, though. It will only plug into cars sold in the U.S. since 1996, and only gasoline-powered cars.
In a promotional video, an Automatic pitchman says the device will give you helpful tips about gasoline use that can save you money, based on sudden acceleration, "without being a backseat driver" and can also save you a trip to the garage if your "check engine" light activates. It can tell you what the various engine codes mean and what to do, and also allows you to switch off the pesky light (though the extra cautious may want to still get a go-ahead from a breathing mechanic before doing that.).
If so, you may tap on the Find Nearby Mechanics button to do a search.
"This sounds like a Jawbone UP for your car," said Michael Gartenberg, a technology analyst at Gartner Research.
He was referring to a wristband that sends information about the wearer to a smartphone app about everything from your mood (in case you didn't know) to your sleep habits, exercise and diet.
"The question is, will it be of real value to consumers when cars already offer up a lot of information and most folks don't need or want to see where they've been. "
Dude, Where's My Car?
Automatic could conceivably replace other services such as OnStar and LoJack, since it can automatically call for help and show a wayward car's location. But in the video, the company suggests a more commonplace use of the location function: displaying it for relatives for easy car-sharing or preventing the absent-minded from endlessly searching the mall parking lot.
Automatic is promising not to run up your data charges, averaging just 5 megabytes a month, or about what it takes to transfer three photos.