Toyota Tries to Be More EntertainingBy ERIC A. TAUB
While you want to keep your car’s wheels firmly in touch with the ground, if you drive a new Toyota later this year, you may find your entertainment system routed in the clouds.
As my colleague, Stephen Williams, wrote about last week, Toyota’s Entune system, to be introduced on select models this year, will use your smartphone to transmit information and entertainment held in the company’s servers into your vehicle.
After downloading the Entune app to compatible phones, the information will be transmitted via Bluetooth to the car’s screen. Toyota will offer Bing search, iheartradio, MovieTickets.com, OpenTable and Pandora; plus sports, weather, stocks and traffic information.
You can’t use the Bing app to go to Web sites; rather, Bing lets drivers search for various points of interest like restaurants, and then get driving directions if one also has a built-in GPS system. The other apps perform as expected, except that some functionality is restricted (for safety reasons) to only when the car is stopped. For example, when moving, you can use OpenTable to check on a previously made reservation. You’ll need to pull over to type in another one.
Because all the information resides in the cloud, Toyota can add new features in the future. New apps will be included at Toyota’s discretion; there’s no app store to allow consumers to bring in their own content.
The cloud-based nature of the content also brings its own limitations. The system uses your smartphone’s data plan to download information, so if you spend hours listening to Pandora, you could find your bill going up. Also, the system only works when you’ve got a signal to your phone. Enter a long tunnel or an area without cell coverage and Entune stops (there is no data buffer in the system).
Still, the fact that Toyota has opted to include this type of entertainment and information system in their vehicles shows that the company doesn’t expect outages to be much of a problem. And it also shows how truly ubiquitous smartphones have become.