It seems like just yesterday we were discussing GM's plans for OnStar, and now, we're getting more information about the popular telematics system's new offerings -- namely, a voice-to-text feature that will allow users to speak their Facebook updates and listen to their Facebook mail.
The feature is set to launch later this month in conjunction with a new ad campaign sporting the tagline, "Live On". The upgrade will allow users to hear Facebook and text messages and respond to them by voice. Although Twitter isn't mentioned in any reports, we'd expect that feature to be included soon, too. And given GM's close work with Google in recent years, we wouldn't be surprised to see Gmail and other Google services rolled in either.
From where we sit, this looks like a great development for General Motors and OnStar. If nothing else, it gives both brands a youthful edge they've been lacking. Facebook and SMS integration are also exactly the sort of first-tier upgrades we'd expect to see in a freemium pricing plan like the one we mentioned yesterday. At launch, they'll probably be rolled into OnStar's existing set of subscriber features, but when/if the freemium version of OnStar arrives, they could be inexpensive add-on services that would add up to big profits for GM.
Of course, we can't talk about interactive systems without bringing up the issue of safety. As we've discussed numerous times before, hands-free services aren't necessarily safer than their hands-on variants because the real distraction for drivers is the communication itself. In other words, whether you're holding a phone to your ear or talking into a dashboard microphone, you're equally distracted from the task of driving. GM spokesperson Jocelyn Allen says that the company is conducting tests to ensure that these OnStar upgrades are safe, but the bigger question is whether drivers will use them responsibly.