We are rapidly approaching a new age -- one defined by the Internet of Things.
If you aren't familiar with that term, don't worry: you'll hear it discussed ad nauseum very soon. It refers to a world filled with networked devices -- not just smartphones and tablets, but washing machines, eyeglasses, sweaters, refrigerators, thermostats, and lightbulbs, too.
We haven't yet reached the point where our cars are fully networked (which is when hacking becomes a major headache). However, we're well into the transitional period, and there are a slew of devices and services promising to speed things along.
OnStar is one example of such a service. For a purchase price and a monthly subscription fee, motorists receive an increasing array of perks, including mechanical monitoring, roadside assistance, theft prevention, and more.
But what about cars that were manufactured without an OnStar-like system? Owners could invest in OnStar FMV, which provides the same services as the "real" OnStar in an aftermarket package.
Or they could go the simpler, cheaper route and opt for something like Automatic. Automatic and similar gadgets involve a device that plugs into a vehicle's onboard diagnostic port. Using Bluetooth, that device communicates with an app on the owner's smartphone to offer a range of services. Forgot where you parked your car? Automatic can find it in a crowded lot. It can also alert you to looming mechanical problems and coach you on driving habits to improve fuel economy. It can even call authorities in the event of an accident.
AT&T AUDIOVOX CAR CONNECTION ELITE SERIES
Now, AT&T is entering the world of connected cars with a device called the "Audiovox Car Connection Elite Series". (No connection to TheCarConnection.com, obviously.) Based on information from an AT&T press release, the device appears nearly identical to Automatic and its kin, consisting of a dongle that plugs into the OBD port and communicates with an app:
The solution allows you to know where your vehicle is and can provide you walking directions to where it is parked when needed. Users can setup safety zones and receive alerts when a driver enters or exits those zones. The device can reduce driver distraction by restricting cell phone usage...and provides driver scores to coach young drivers. It also monitors your vehicle's health with diagnostic reports and reviews recent trips to help monitor fuel consumption which may allow you to conserve gas and save money.
Oh but wait, there is one major difference: the cost. The Audiovox Car Connection Elite Series runs a hefty $179.99 and requires a $10-per-month data plan. And it doesn't appear to include emergency collision assistance. Automatic, meanwhile, is $99, with no subscription required.
It's times like this that we're happy to see a little disruption in the marketplace.