Talking on a phone while driving is illegal - and dangerous - but apps can actually help with driving, from offering sat-nav to voice-controlled entertainment.
Apps such as Vlingo allow drivers to send text messages simply by talking - and free apps can even warn of traffic jams.
With wireless streaming technology like Bluetooth, you can use digital radio apps like the free TuneIn Radio to
access more than 50,000 radio stations from around the world, live
through your car speakers.
69p Car Audio Deck transforms your iPhone screen into a big,
chunky interface for accessing and playing your tunes via your car
speakers. Best of all though, the volume goes up to 11. Rock on!
Many sat nav apps offer functions above and beyond services such as Apple Maps or Google Maps. Best of the free options is Navfree,
‘the world’s first crowd-powered navigation system’ that’s constantly
adding information as its user base grows. It has all the features you’d
expect – 2D and 3D maps, click and route guidance, turn-by-turn voice
instructions, auto rerouting, speed camera alert and POI search and as
it stores its maps direct on the handset, you incur no data costs. Best
of all though, cough up £2.99 and Stephen Fry can be the voice of all
Best of the paid for satnav apps is TomTom,
starting at £27 for the UK and Ireland iPhone version up to £55 for the
full Europe edition, although prices are oddly different on Android.
Building in add-ons like lifetime free map upgrades, travel alerts and
rerouting certainly adds functionality, but it’s debatable how worth the
cost they are.
Whatever you opt for, don’t forget to pick up a
phone mount so you can safely use the satnav apps on your phone.
Balancing it on your lap or the dashboard is neither wise nor safe!
Remote car control
Having to hand operate your car’s features is so last year. Many car manufacturers now offer remote control services for newer cars that give you cool remote and voice-controlled features.
Ford’s Sync technology comes in a variety of packages offering varying levels of voice control, from changing radio stations and turn-by-turn satnav to the primary package that incorporates an eight-inch touchscreen in your car, full on-the-road WiFi and recognition of more than 10,000 voice commands.
My BMW Remote is free for any Beemer driver with a BMW Assist contract on its BMW ConnectedDrive service. Download the app to get remote locking and climate control so you can warm it before you jump in on a cold winter’s morn.
Transfer address searches from phone to car satnav, flash your lights to see where you’re parked and use the 1.5km location system should you misplace it.
Keen not to miss out, Volvo has also released its On Call app and Mercedes Benz its welcome-sounding mbrace system offering much the same as BMW but with the nifty Drive2Friend, which connects and guides you to a friend’s location.
A kind of Siri for your car, Vlingo is a free app voice assistant designed to minimise driver distraction. Use it to dictate text messages, call contacts, post to Facebook and Twitter and search the web or get directions – it’s surprisingly accurate (if not perfect), easy to use and doesn’t even get affected by your road rage thanks to its ‘profanity filter’.
While we’d never recommend working on your car’s technical stuff unless you know what you’re doing, there are some great apps for DIY enthusiasts.
GoPoint’s free app plugs into your car’s OBD-II port (you need to buy the GL1 or BT1 cable for around £40) and gives you a full diagnostic rundown and enables you to turn off the ‘check engine’ warning once you find the bug – for a lot less than a garage would charge. Professionals can go a step further with the £35 DashCommand app, which adds a raft of performance and added diagnostic stats great for racers.
There are myriad alert apps that can warn you of upcoming traffic obstacles. Trapster is another free and (after its latest update) brilliant crowd-powered system that relies on its 17 million users to update locations for fixed and mobile speed cameras, red light cameras, accidents and jams and also shows your speed and performs lots of standard satnav functions. It comes in six languages with a range of novelty voices, although of course we’ll be opting for the civilised Brit.
The future of cars and phones
The above apps are great, but they only really scratch the surface of true integration between car and phone unless you cough up big bucks for the manufacturer-specific stuff. But that is changing.
Companies such as audio automotive specialist Harman are working on much deeper integration with technologies like the Connected Car already developed if not yet commercially available. The connected car has built-in controls that connect to your mobile, offering deep integration, remote control, web access – in fact control of anything electronic.
For those without such budgetary constraints, the RIM QNX concept car unveiled at CES 2013 is a Bentley Continental GT convertible overflowing with tech powered by the forthcoming BlackBerry 10 OS. With video conferencing, WiFI hub, LTE radio modem, voice recognition and touchscreen interface, it could one day be the fastest office on four wheels.