GM’s OnStar division is preparing for a big push into new info-tainment and connectivity services, and it’s launching the effort at Google’s I/O conference starting tomorrow. First up is a new Google-maps-based navigation feature for Android phones running the Chevy Volt mobile app, featured in the video above [presser here]. Though this new navigation system won’t be available at launch, but will emerge in a 2.0 version of the Volt mobile app, it hints at a new direction for OnStar, which traditionally markets itself as a safety feature. A senior (anonymous, sorry) source at GM took a moment to explain where this is all heading….
In essence, OnStar is being developed to be “seamless” with mobile smartphones, and the Volt is the guinea pig for this next generation of capabilities. In addition to the recently-added navigation features, the Volt mobile app will be able to
- Charge status display – plugged in or not and voltage (120V or 240V)
- Flexibility to “Charge Now” or schedule charge timing
- Display percentage of battery charge level, electric and total ranges
- Ability to manually set grid-friendly charge mode for off-peak times when electricity rates are lowest
- Send text or email notifications for charge reminders, interruptions and full charge
- Display miles per gallon, electric only miles, and odometer readings
- Shows miles per gallon, EV miles and miles driven for last trip and lifetime
- Remotely start the vehicle to pre-condition the interior temperature
Because OnStar can securely communicate with vehicle controls, GM believes that integrating mobile phones creates “almost no end to the cool things we can do in this space.” And that means eventually migrating these capabilities to other vehicles besides the Volt. Our source explains:
We can do this because Volt has the next-gen hardware for OnStar. That hardware goes to all GM products for 2011 model year…so of course, we’d be able to proliferate the approach.
Of course, “some infrastructure issues” are still standing in the way of an official announcement, but we’re told to expect a “re-launch” of the OnStar brand “within the next couple of months.” OnStar’s “killer app… a human being who actually thinks and acts on the other end of the blue button” will remain the centerpiece of the brand, but building infotainment and mobile integration into the next-generation of OnStar as a compliment to traditional safety-oriented features is seen as the best way to grow the brand.
And though the navigation feature that will be highlighted this week is available on Android phones only, GM isn’t putting all its eggs in one basket. Apple and RIM (Blackberry) will be fully integrated as well, and a new Human Machine Interface (HMI) would not require a partnership as Android is free and open to developers. GM is apparently in talks with several outfits to develop an HMI architecture that is “truly open.”
Onstar has always been a bit of an odd duck: it’s a tech toy for people who don’t have or like tech toys. The simple function and human interaction make it ideal for the safety-conscious yet tech-unsavvy demographic… in other words, people who aren’t married to a cell phone. But as cell phones with features like navigation and roadside assistance become increasingly common, even among non-early-adopters, OnStar’s traditional mission (peace of mind) is becoming less relevant. And unlike Ford’s SYNC system, OnStar hasn’t targeted the tech-for-tech’s-sake crowd with entertainment features and phone-car integration. If the next-generation of OnStar can blend its traditional strengths with the kinds of features that allegedly brings younger buyers into SYNC with Ford, GM will be making one of many necessary steps it needs to around perceptions of its business.
After all, mobile phone culture is already leaving quite the impact on car marketing.