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More tech in cars means more focus on safety
Automakers look to improve safety as more apps and tech land in vehicles

The automotive industry understands that it is a tightrope walk between adding technology to cars to help drivers stay connected behind the wheel and putting too many distractions in front of the driver. There is a big push by local, state, and federal governments to reduce accidents related to distracted driving.

Just about all of the carmakers out there are now offering technology in their vehicles that allows for hands free use of a mobile phone while driving. Ford has its Sync system for instance and GM has its OnStar system. The technology in systems such as those is changing rapidly with new additions coming to keep people for texting and driving or being distracted.

One interesting new addition that automakers are working on for several brands are systems that will allow the driver to receive a text message (which is spoken aloud by the vehicles’ infotainment system) and to speak a response back all while driving. The Detroit News reports that Chris Weber, president of Nokia USA, showed off a Microsoft voice-recognition technology on a new Nokia Mango smartphone.

Weber said, "This is a game changer. I ended up doing 17 text messages," he said, "and I never touched the phone."

Ford's Jim Farley said the auto industry hasn’t focused on selling technology in the past. Farley said, "If people don't know about it or how to use it, what's the use."  

Ford knows well that cumbersome and difficult to use technology in a vehicle can have a significant impact on the company. Ford's MyFord Touch system was criticized for being hard to use and distracting. Complaints from users were enough to send it tumbling in the J.D. Power rankings. Ford is now working to make the vehicle technology easier to use.

GM is also working on its own OnStar system and has updated the system to allow the user to hear Facebook status messages and post messages without touching the phone. Facebook has even hired Toyota social media and marketing exec Doug Frisbie to lead automotive strategy solutions for the company. 

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MINI Connected
By Iaiken on 8/4/2011 4:23:08 PM , Rating: 3
I had the opportunity to bomb around LA in a friends 2011 Mini Cooper S with MINI Connected and his iPhone4.

Despite the comparatively good implementation, I still find most of these systems to be gimmicky at best beyond a certain point.

Things that I liked:

Listening to Pandora on the cars stereo via the phones internet connection.
Voice driven search in the navigation application
Text to speech for pretty much everything (I was using it to read entire articles to me)
Voice recognition for menu options was acceptably accurate
Making/accepting hands free phone calls was unintrusive and easy

Things that I didn't like:

The text to speech engine sounds like it's from 1996
You had to manually select the option to have something read to you. If you missed something, you had to manually back it up.
SMS/Twitter/FB/G+ notifications while driving were annoying and distracting.
Items that weren't accessible through voice commands required you to use a joystick to navigate.
The joystick was pretty much impossible to use without splitting your attention while driving
The joystick was in an awkward place between the hand brake and the stick.

Things that didn't matter:

A lot of people get all bent up when things don't have touch screens, but the problem there is that you need to look away from the road in order to make accurate selections.
Quick text responses all made it seem like the car had kidnapped me and was now in control.

The auto makers just need to get it into their head that there are just some things that you can't do while driving (navigating through layers of menus using a joystick for example). Sure they can be there, but you need to hide them away from the driver when the car is in motion. This has the added benefit of making what is left easier to use.

"The Space Elevator will be built about 50 years after everyone stops laughing" -- Sir Arthur C. Clarke

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