The upcoming launch of a new generation of plug-in and hybrid electric vehicles is coinciding with the explosive popularity of Apple’s iPhone platform. Combine that with increased pressure on U.S. automakers to demonstrate innovation and advanced technology, and you get new smartphone applications pushing forward the idea of Car 2.0, or the intersection of vehicles, communication networks and the electrical grid.
We’re still in early days for what could be a much larger trend of the automotive market fueling new apps and app stores. As the research firm iSuppli noted in a recent market report, the market for smartphone apps “has emerged as a central battlefront in the global technology industry, with device manufacturers, wireless service providers and software developers fighting it out for a share of this fast-growing market. This contest now has spread to the automotive market.” Here are eight apps and platforms gunning for a share.
|App/Platform||Available? (Cost)||Features||Real or Potential Green Impact?|
|BMW ConnectedDrive app store concept||No||Allows software downloads directly to vehicle.||Lack of interoperability could limit app selection, but quick, easy vehicle software upgrades would be a boon for EV drivers and car sharing networks (by reducing need for extra hardware).|
|Ford Sync system||Yes (deployed in new Ford vehicles)||In-vehicle communication platform connects mobile phone, navigation, entertainment, fuel economy gauge and other systems.||Could eventually support communication between plug-in vehicles and the electrical grid via smart meters (now in demo stage).|
|General Motors OnStar||Yes||In-vehicle security, communications and diagnostics.||Byron Shaw, Managing Director of GM’s Silicon Valley Advanced Technology office spoke at a panel last week about the possibility of OnStar being used for monitoring, maintaining EV batteries.|
|Honda Compare Your Drive to Insight iPhone app||Yes (Free)||Monitors speed, braking, acceleration; gives driver an “eco rating” real-time efficiency feedback.||Depends on driver. A driver who is already motivated to max out efficiency may adjust behavior with info from this tool.|
|Nissan LEAF iPhone app + EV IT system
||No||Remote battery charge level monitoring, charging and temperature controls (on/off).||If launched as planned, will make LEAF electric vehicle and off-peak charging more convenient.|
|Viper SmartStart system + iPhone app||Yes (App is free; $300-500 installation fee; $30year service plan after first year)||Remote start, trunk release, panic/alarm. Push notifications in the works for panic alerts. Down side: Requires car to have expensive Viper system installed.||No green features announced so far. Potential influence as a model for aftermarket smart charging systems for plug-in cars.|
|Virtual Networking Computer layer (NAVTEQ, Nokia, Magneti Marelli)||No (alpha phase testing)||Integrates smartphone with vehicle systems, so all phone apps/services could be accessed via vehicle display.||If a later version offers battery status updates and charging station routing, it could help make plug-in vehicles more convenient.|
|Zipcar iPhone app||Yes (Free)||Find, reserve, lock/unlock car via iPhone. Down side: Member key fob is still needed to unlock reserved car; slow unlock.||Makes car sharing (which can help reduce reliance on personal vehicles) more convenient.|