By on May 22, 2011

Explaining the many features of a car has always been a challenge. Manuals remain largely unread. When I was at Volkswagen, someone had the brilliant idea of making interactive CD-ROMs. I protested: “So that car stops with a cryptic trouble light, and now the poor customer is supposed to go home, find the CD, pop it into the computer and check what that light means?” My protests fell on deaf ears, and the CDs were made. Now, someone at Audi had a better idea …

Owners of an Audi A1 can download an application that runs on their iPhone. (Android or Windows? SOL.)

According to Automobilwoche [sub], once the app is on the iPhone, the customer must aim the phone’s camera at the part he or she does not understand, hit a button, and the iPhone will explain what’s going on. If the feature is one of the 65 the iPhone app recognizes, that is. In a later version, the iPhone will be familiar with 250 parts of the car, even if they are under the hood. So in a few years, when you see a lady by the side of the road, aiming her iPhone at the dipstick, you’ll know what to do. Currently, the app is sub-hood-agnostic.

The picture above shows you how this works. You aim the iPhone at the ominous stalk to the left of the steering column. A red quadrant signals that the stalk has been recognized. You push a button, and it says “Geschwindigskeitsregelanlage”, which is German for cruise control. Isn’t technology wonderful?

And what about the warning lights?  Not yet. “It is conceivable that in the future, a customer can see with a single click on his smartphone what kind of fuel and oil the car needs,” says Das Autohaus. “The meaning of a blinking warning light will then also be identified quickly and easily via the smartphone.” Sounds like the blinkenlights will come in the 3.0 version.

Trouble lights aside, Audi thought of everything, even of the poor sods who have an iPhone, but not Audi A1. They get four pictures on the web. Aim your iPhone at the picture, and the phone will tell you what it is.  I forgot: You need to subscribe to iTunes first.

Sorry, guys: Isn’t there a big screen in the dash? CAN-Bus connected? Why do I feel I am being ignored again?

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24 Comments on “Audi: Vorsprung Durch iPhone....”

  • avatar

    Sometime technology is a great step forward, other times it is technology for technology’s sake. This is silly on several levels. One, iPhone only? Two, if an item has multiple functions, which one is described? Lastly, anybody tech savvy enough to do this will likely be able to figure out what the item is. I’ve got to add though: If you refuse to be willing to crack a manual to find out how something works, you’re pretty lame. I’m totally a car guy and there is no shame in looking up how to reset the oil life monitor after doing an oil change. Oh wait, I forgot. Those who will approve of this have never gotten their hands oily.

  • avatar

    It seems I must be one of the few people left in the world who enjoys reading the owners manual of their new car from cover to cover. When I bought my current car I brought the owners manual inside and used it as my evening reading until I had read it all. I then understood every feature of my car, plus a few that weren’t included in my base-level trim car!

    • 0 avatar
      Wally Vance

      When I ordered my current car, I downloaded the owners manual and read it before I ever got the car

      • 0 avatar

        Oh yeah? Well, I hacked into the manufacturer’s website to download the owner’s manual for a model not even out yet to decide whether to put down a deposit on it.

    • 0 avatar

      As do I. The fundamental problem is that technology is applied differently in each car, and not in obvious ways. I’ve read the section on accessing the settings menu on my wife’s 328i owner’s manual about a dozen times and it still doesn’t come easily or intuitively. As more and more electronics get loaded into new cars, the more each manufacturer seems to think that their approach to the user interface is better than all the rest. Some cruise control buttons are on a special stalk. Some are on the steering wheel. Others are buried in menus. Some have buttons on the dash. And that’s just a simple example. Try setting the timing of the headlamps to go out after the car is off and the key removed, or how to have all the locks lock after the car drives off, or how to reset the maintenance reminder messages in some of these interface menus. It’s an exercise in s frustration, and I’m a car guy and have been in the IT business for 30 years.

      We need clearly written user manuals, printed on paper for easy access, and user interfaces that are logical, intuitive, and can be easily grasped. Apple computers seems to be able to do it, why can’t the auto manufacturers?

  • avatar

    My Passat has a display with about 30-40 functions, programmable through a couple of buttons on the steering wheel. I guess all cars have them, nowadays. I never use anything other than the current speed display, or to sometimes mute the radio, and am not happy when I accidentally hit a button and then can’t get back to whatever I want to see. Useless distracting junk. Things were much better when knobs on the dash were actually connected to something on the other end.

    I remember my Saab 9-3 came with a CD. It featured a fighter pilot explaining how driving a Saab was not unlike firing up the afterburner on a funny looking Swedish jet. I am glad the company is soon to be out of business, but wonder what took it so long?

  • avatar

    Again another reason not to have just one supplier.

  • avatar
    John Fritz

    Not only do I enjoy reading the Owner’s Manual, I also have bought the factory troubleshooting / repair manuals for my last three cars. Reading pieces of paper with printing on them still does work well. I guess you just have to want to do it is the problem.

  • avatar

    The Phaeton came with a nearly full copy of the manual stored on the Nav-disc media, and a big “MANUAL” button on the infotainment to access it. It’s still included in all the European disc updates, and not only in the local languages, but also in English. 2011-model year Phaetons, of course, no longer use CD or DVD media, as these are now hard-disc based.

    Now in the U.S., the “MANUAL” button is there in the 2004-2005 Phaetons, and if one inserts a Euro-nav disc it works, but the VWoA never released US-Nav discs with the necessary files, so the function is disabled. Enthusiasts, however, combined their US maps with the proper files, and rolled their own.

    Why did VWoA block this? Probably the Legal dept. The U.S. paper manual consists of at least 50% information and 50% tacked on warnings. The electronic manual doesn’t have the unnecessary crap

  • avatar

    Nicholas Negroponte of MIT’s Media Lab wrote in favor of the printed word that

    a)it needs no power
    b)it has high contrast
    c)it has no glare
    d)its display is generally large and legible enough (unless its for legal or insurance purposes, of course)
    e)it is unlikely to break or otherwise fault
    f)with hundreds of years practice, the letters comprising the words are generally pleasingly designed

    the moral being, use the simplest and most reliable appropriate technology. You might also add in this case that it is irrelevant whether you are in range of a cell tower. Forearmed is half an octopus, but I don’t think I’m going to be downloading every damn gadget and appliance manual to my cell, most especially because its too stupid. It only knows how to make calls.

    • 0 avatar
      M 1

      My “gadget” sits quietly in my pocket and has around 50GB of storage, enough memory to store hundreds of owners manuals… in print, and without needing connection to any sort of cell tower. I can full-text-search it, which means I don’t have to use that crappy printed index (why don’t car companies ever seem to index things like how muck frickin’ oil the car needs or plug gaps?).

      And Negroponte apparently was never stuck wishing he could read a sheet of paper in the dark. My gadget lights up, even if my car won’t.

      And if things get really bad, assuming I am in range of a cell tower, I can actually call a wrecker and amuse myself online until it arrives. Try that with your primitive paper manual!

  • avatar

    I have been known to read the manual, if nothing else to try and decipher what a car has or not. 2 cases in point, back in 1995, my parents bought a slightly used 1995 Chrysler Concorde and we were never sure if it had auto temp control or not and the manual wasn’t exactly clear on that matter as I looked it up but there WAS a thing on the dash we thought was for that purpose. Anyway, I suspect it didn’t have the auto as now I know to look for a button for automatic control but back then, didn’t know anything about it and suspect there was no auto button anywhere on the control panel.

    Mom’s current ride, the 2004 Dodge Stratus as I looked in it for what it may have and discovered it could have ESC but since the big, black button wasn’t affixed to the top of the steering column, she doesn’t have it and discovered where the immobilizer/alarm warning light is located (it’s in the instrument cluster and is a simple, red lamp, no extra LED anywhere else on say, the top of the dash or doors) So the things you DO learn about your car, especially if buying used from a dealer.

    Chrysler, and by extension, Fiat has issued an app with the basic information for the iPhone, Android and Blackberry (I have it on my Blackberry Storm for the Fiat 500 but there is one for the new Jeep Grand Cherokee as well) that goes into the basic information on the key features, including a graphic showing the individual warning lights and it’s mapped so when you click on say, the fuel warning lamp, it then brings up a description of what it is and what to do about it and also provides a short video clip on some features, such as the wipers and the speed sensitive intermittent function for example or how the headlight switch works being 2 that have such a short clip included and is designed to augment the DVD and/or actual manual, of which I have a PDF of it on my computer and have gone over at least once – as I have the European manual so when I am ready to buy, I know all about the little car. :-)

  • avatar

    Heck, I travel for work every week and I always read the rental car’s manual cover-to-cover whenever I encounter a new ride.

    • 0 avatar

      Not all rentals still have the manuals in the car. I rented a Ford 500 with dual climate control, and couldn’t figure it out. Fortunately, another customer was getting into a 500 and I asked him about the dual climate control. He had a manual and we both learned how to turn on the driver’s side heater. If you rent in Boston in January, the heater is very useful. Maybe someday, Ford will learn how to lay out simple dashboard controls. Ironically, I almost rented an Impala which didn’t need explanation, since I owned a ’65 Chevy once.

  • avatar

    ” when you see a lady by the side of the road, aiming her iPhone at the dipstick”

    Strangely arousing.

  • avatar

    «the only country that allows it’s citizens to sue any and everyone»

    One of the few (very few) without loser pays rules.

    Most other places, if you sue frivolously (i.e., fishing-expedition like most U.S. consumer lawsuits), it’s OK, but when you lose, you gotta pay whatever the company spent defending itself.

    You gotta understand that most lawsuits, like the woman who made $10 mill for spilling hot McD’s coffee in her lap in her car, and resulting in McD serving lukewarm coffee, are not actually funded by the so-called “victim”; instead, it is a racket where an entrepreneur lawyer who pockets up to 50% of the windfall tries and plays the lottery. If he wins, $5 mill. If he loses, he spent his own personal time, plus some modest court fees.

    • 0 avatar
      M 1

      “but when you lose, you gotta pay whatever the company spent defending itself.”

      IF the judge decides your suit was frivolous. Most people assume loser-pays is automatic. There is typically a shopping list of standards which judges must apply, and in fact, loser pays is applied only very rarely.

      A better example of the “entrepreneur” (not the word I’d have chosen) lawyer-racket is class action lawsuits. “Wow, if I join up, I’ll get a check from Sony for $1.75! Awesome!” And the attorneys pull down $35 million.

      I agree with loser-pays but most people don’t really know what it means.

  • avatar

    As cars become more complex it requires more complex technology to explain how everything works. Get used to it. An interactive PDF is really the way to go since it can be printed, used online or on any number of phones, tablets or laptops. Hyundai puts the manual to its more expensive car on an iPad and just throws that in the glove box for you. My current Volvo was bought used and the manual was missing… no big deal as the Volvo website has an HTML version available. I bookmarked the site on my iPhone and can now easily look up any questions I have.

    I too read the manual cover to cover after purchasing a car, there are plenty of hidden gems within the text. I often see people complaining of something there car does or doesn’t do simply because they didn’t RFTM.

  • avatar

    I always read the manual in any car that I drive, especially if I’m borrowing it for an extended period. Generally the cars that I have available to borrow are fairly basic, but I get a charge out of the “Driver’s Education lite” where the manual is telling you how you should drive, and to turn the windshield wipers on when it’s raining.

    I have to say one instance where reading a manual helped save somebody at least $150. When I was working at Wal-Mart I had a lady come in with her manual and she was frantic because she couldn’t get her car started (Mercedes or BMW – IIRC) and couldn’t even turn the key. She was ready to have it towed to the dealer at 9:30 in the evening. Knowing that many of the lesser models have steering wheel locks I figured that her car would have something similar, and I asked to see her manual.

    I read the part of the manual where it explains how to start the car after the steering wheel locks and told her to turn the wheel as far to whichever side it was already turned and try turning the key again. She went out and did this and got the car going and I believe she even made a special trip back inside to thank me for saving her the time and possibly money (I wouldn’t know if a tow-truck driver would have thought to have her try the wheel) of hiring a tow truck to bring the vehicle back to the dealer. I believe the closest MB or BMW dealer was about 30 miles away.

  • avatar
    M 1

    My personal rant about owner’s manuals lies in the way that many manufacturers print one giant generic manual for an entire series of vehicles.

    Do I really need instructions about strapping a car seat into the back seat of my Viper?

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