A personal assistant may sound like a luxury afforded only to one-name celebrities and self-styled Trumps in the making. But the Web can do almost anything a good handler can do--even the "personal" part, in the case of Infiniti Personal Assistant.
A concierge-styled service, Infiniti Personal Assistant comes with every one of the brand's new vehicles. Infiniti says it can provide everything from travel reservations, to weather forecasts, to reminders for appointments. It's delivered entirely through a Web page, a voice connection, email or text, with a layer of virtual hand-holding taking the place of a nice young man or woman in crisp business attire.Now, luxury is a nebulous concept. Particularly in the world of in-car telematics, it's lacking a unified field theory. The simpler setups offer Starwood Preferred-style treatment--800 hotlines, roadside assistance, and espresso in the service area. At the more extravagant extreme, Hyundai offers pick-up and drop-off service for its Equus sedan, while Tesla's Model S has full Web access on its beautiful 17-inch touchscreen, for the well-heeled DIYer.
What we found, in a brief sampling over the past month with our 2013 JX35 long-termer, is a hands-free service that bridges the gap between the JX's somewhat limited in-car systems and a white-glove treatment.
Infiniti provided us with an hour of Personal Assistant service to evaluate its talents, just in time for a major road trip to the 2013 New York Auto Show. Over the course of 1500 miles, I got to know it as "my staff," and offloaded some chores to be done in the background while I clawed north on i-81 through a snowstorm.
Since it's smartphone-driven, Personal Assistant isn't integrated very deeply into the car itself. That's evident in the overlap between some of the services it offers and those embedded in our JX's navigation system. Weather forecasts, for example, are already a part of the car's information stream--a tap or two on the dash-mounted joystick brings up local forecasts, radar maps, and temperatures. Personal Assistant will field requests for that information via their Web page, by text, by email, or by voice--but it's simpler and safer to rely on the car.
More nuanced requests are where Personal Assistant finds its light. I came up with three difficult requests for "my staff" to seek out the limits of their desktops and browser skills--and came up with a suitable answer each time.