BBC Autos


March of the smartphones

  • Hold the line

    In recent years, smartphones have become much more than our communication and entertainment devices. They are our keys, our wallets and our personal assistants. When it comes to our vehicles, smartphones breathe new life into old, at times baleful, tasks. What follows is a look at the most remarkable ways our phones are changing the driving experience. (General Motors)

  • PayByPhone parking

    Parking in the city is already a hassle, but apps like PayByPhone remove a little bit of the bite. PayByPhone allows drivers to pay their parking meter by calling or texting, or through a mobile app. Users can receive a reminder when the meter is about to expire and then pay to reload it right from their phones. A pay for tolls option is also available. The technology does have its detractors, and some motorists in Britain have been critical of the minimum charges levied – which is more a function of the vendor than the app itself. (PayByPhone)

  • Mobile ignition start

    Push-button starts used to be the gee-whiz way to start a car, but now it can be done remotely from a smartphone app. Drivers using OnStar's RemoteLink app can start their vehicle from an iOS, Android or BlackBerry handset. Users can also unlock their vehicle, check fuel levels and driving range, and monitor tire pressure. (General Motors)

  • Streaming audio

    Broadcasting audio from a smartphone to the car is not a new concept, but that does not make it any less astounding. Bluetooth-enabled cars can be paired with phones to stream music from the phone's built-in memory or from apps like Spotify, Pandora, IHeartRadio and others. Automakers are starting to integrate more music apps directly into their infotainment systems, but for now, a simple Bluetooth connection is the best way to bring your own music into the car – presuming you are not still listening to mixtapes on a cassette deck. (Ford Motor)

  • Monitor battery levels in EVs

    Tesla Motors recently released an app for its purely electric Model S sedan that allows drivers to view current charge levels and schedule charging for the vehicle. Owners also can control heat and air conditioning from the app, open the panoramic roof, and lock and unlock the vehicle. Ford, Honda, GM and others have similar apps for their electric vehicles, and the MyFord Mobile app for the Focus EV can even locate charging stations. (Tesla Motors)

  • Siri integration

    Siri's coming integration into cars has been covered on this website before, but it bears repeating. This year, GM, Honda and a handful of other automakers will release models with a new Siri "Eyes Free" feature. Apple iPhone 4S and 5 users will be able to ask Siri to call contacts, send texts and generate responses to basic questions like, “Siri, how am I feeling today?” (General Motors)

  • Engine diagnostics

    Some automakers have their own diagnostics smartphone apps, but third-party programmes like DashCommand go one step further. DashCommand can display torque levels, turbo boost, air-to-fuel ratios and other parameters beloved by enthusiasts. The software requires a third-party programme to communicate diagnostics information from the engine to the app, but simpler and less expensive apps are also available from the company. (DashCommand)

  • Accident and roadside assistance

    Breaking down or being involved in an accident can make any motorist feel untethered, but apps like Allstate's roadside assistance can store insurance and vehicle information, ring emergency contacts and put the driver in touch with roadside help. Apps like this contain checklists to tell a driver what to do after an accident, and some use integrated GPS to pinpoint a driver’s location. (Allstate)