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2013 Chevrolet Spark: Is A Smartphone App The Future Of Navigation?

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The new 2013 Chevrolet Spark minicar is already one of the lowest-priced models for sale in the U.S. market; and late this year it's going to delight a lot of no-frills shoppers—in being the lowest-priced new car to offer a fully functioning in-dash touch-screen navigation system.

In the Spark, that's accomplished not with a standalone navigation system—expensive, as they need their own storage, processing, and location-based services—but with an embedded smartphone application.

Simply put, the BringGo app projects a fully functional navigation system, with live traffic alerts and most of the features you're used to in a full-feature nav system, on a seven-inch touch screen. Yet it uses the MyLink system that's standard on the $14,495 Spark LT, and the app itself only costs about $50 per handset.

Smartphone has the maps, the cloud has POIs

GM calls the BringGo system 'cloud-based,' which may set off alarms for a number of frugal smart-phone users. While cloud services are convenient, they tend to plow through data allowances if you're not careful. But thankfully GM's really using the wrong term here, as it only looks to the Internet for point-of-interest (POI) information. If you navigate to a specific street address, the BringGo app has all the data there on your phone, with the default set of maps (which likely take a couple GB of space) providing all the street and highway info for the U.S. and Canada.

According to GM spokesperson Annalisa Bluhm, the BringGo app alerts you whenever you’re going to use data. “Otherwise, everything else is coming from your app,” she confirmed. And it’s potentially as good as some systems that add thousands of dollars to a vehicles’ sticker price.

BringGo might just win an award for accessibility, too. GM says that the system, in addition to iPhone, Android, and Blackberry, also supports Nokia Symbian phones, as well as those with Windows Mobile.

Developed for emerging markets

With a little more backstory, it makes sense why the BringGo app works with such a wide range of handsets, and why it's definitely not a data hog. The system was created to be an affordable solution for emerging markets like India and Brazil, where smartphones have limited data access and aren’t necessarily using the latest technology.

GM hadn’t originally intended to use the app in the U.S., but is well aware that most U.S. Spark buyers won’t have unlimited-data plans either and “when we saw how great it is, we brought it over,” explained Bluhm.

In the U.S., shoppers who plan to use MyLink's integrated streaming-entertainment apps—for Pandora, for example—will appreciate how the nav system doesn't use much additional bandwidth.

The app, which runs under a mantra of “smart phone, dumb radio,” essentially lets MyLink function as an accessory interface for your smartphone—with the in-dash interface functioning like a remote control, albeit one with an attractive, clear seven-inch touch screen. While MyLink uses the MP4 protocol to play video and can use the Bluetooth protocols for audio only, it uses a system called MirrorLink, according to some sources, for the mapping interactivity.

“MyLink isn’t taking or storing any of the data,” said Bluhm.

$50, and supported for years

You’ll need to buy the $50 BringGo app for each of the handsets in your households, but that includes what’s potentially many years of use. Under a support agreement with GM, the spp, which was created by EnGIS, will be supported for up to seven years. And the MyLink system can interact with up to five handsets at a time.

As for how MyLink itself updates, GM will likely ask customers to periodically visit the dealership for a five-minute reflash.

Product cycles for personal electronics, like smartphones, happen at a far faster rate than product cycles for vehicles. While the BringGo app may look like a ‘flash in the pan’ solution at first glance, what we’re seeing may in fact be the future of nav systems. In a business where original-equipment navigation systems can look painfully dated after just a few years, here’s a system that has the potential to grow with handsets—and show you the way.

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