Tuesday we had a chance to play with Toyota Motor Company's (TYO:7203) new "Entune"
infotainment system at the unveil of the 2012 Toyota Camry.
Thanks to the pioneering work of Ford Motor Company's (F) SYNC, which consolidated scattered in-car
info and entertainment system into a single cohesive platform, infotainment
systems are a hot topic in the auto market right now. Entune will join a
growing pack of systems, which includes Ford's SYNC and MyFord Touch, Kia
Motors Corp.'s (SEO:000270) UVO, and Fiat SpA's (BIT:F) Blue&Me. Like these
other systems, Toyota will use the same underlying Microsoft Auto operating
system from Microsoft Corp. (MSFT).
Entune will cost $1,050 and come with the Tier III and Tier IV
audio/entertainment option on Toyota-brand vehicles. This is much more
expensive than the base Ford Sync, which costs
$295 USD, and more
even than MyFord Touch, which costs $1,000.
Our first impression of the system was okay, but not great.
The unit does cover all the basics found in the latest version of Sync --
sports scores, weather, cell-phone enabled directions, points of interest,
voice command of music, etc., albeit at a substantially higher price.
Toyota engineer Ken Glasser states, "We plan to differentiate
ourselves by offering superior voice command."
Indeed, while we could not fully test the system, Mr. Glasser's voice
directives were carried out without a hitch. That's more than we could
say in January about the MyFord Touch system, which was unresponsive
to a handful of our engineering contact's pre-planned commands.
Toyota is also working with Nuance Communications, Inc. (NUAN) for its voice input, but
it's also enlisted VoiceBox, another voice startup. Further, we found
that the MyFord Touch system seemed to be held back by the application
implementation, rather than the underlying voice command. It's possible
that Toyota's application -- done by Denso Corp. (TYO:6902) and Harmon
International Industries, Inc. (HAR) -- may give Toyota the
boost to one-up Ford in voice command responsiveness.
Toyota was a bit cagier about the hardware than Ford, refusing to tell us what
was in the system. It claimed that knowledge would offer a
"competitive advantage" to its rivals -- something we debated, given
that Ford has released its system specs.
That said, most customers who've experienced Ford's infotainment system may
find the features versus price of the Entune to be a bit underwhelming.
First, the touch screen included was relatively non-responsive requiring
you to forcibly press it ("fat-finger it") to get it to respond to
Second, the interface itself looked bland -- almost ugly. And the display
itself didn't seem to have a great viewing angle (again this could change in
the final unit).
Third, while the device does lock you out of navigating past a certain level in
the menus (for example, you can't go to a second page in the music lists), the
lockout seems somewhat arbitrary, as you can still use the touch system to a
degree. In that regard the system may receive much the same admonishment
for distractions -- fair or not -- as Ford did.
Lastly, somewhat troubling is the fact that Toyota is putting off subscription
pricing until the launch of the system in October. It would be nice to
give buyers more advance knowledge of what they were getting into.
Of course, these are only very rough impressions. We're hoping to get
some extended in-vehicle time with the system -- the only real means of drawing
final conclusions on an infotainment platform.
While much is still unknown about the platform, we did find out that customers
will receive three years of free subscription to the Entune applications and
that Toyota will not initially be opening the gates to third party
applications (though it is accepting customer recommendations for
Further, the platform will launch exclusively on the 2012 Prius V hybrid and
the 2012 Toyota Camry at the start of October.