Cloud Commuting: Google Maps Will Be A Key Feature On Ford, GM, Audi Rides

June 9, 2010

We've talked a lot about Google Maps and how it can make drivers' lives easier. We're happy to report that several major automakers have fully embraced Google's free service and are working hard to integrate its unique features into their vehicles' existing telematics systems.

Ford is a great example of this phenomenon in action. We've known for some time that developers behind Ford Sync are opening up the system to a number of apps and social media elements, including Google Maps. Now we've learned that Google Maps will occupy a featured spot on Sync, beginning this month.

The way it works is fairly simple. According to a Ford press release, Google Maps has integrated a "Send to Sync" feature, which pairs with the cloud-based SYNC® Traffic, Directions & Information (TDI) app. Just chose your destination, hit the "Send to Sync" button, and your travel info zips right to your car:

When users visit Google Maps on the web to find locations, they will have the option to send a selected destination to their Ford, Lincoln or Mercury vehicle via a "send" menu on the site. Once in the vehicle, the driver connects to SYNC TDI using the "Services" voice command, and when prompted, confirms the request to download the Google Maps destination into the vehicle.

The optimal route is calculated in the cloud using the latest traffic information, downloaded to the vehicle and navigation guidance begins. If the vehicle is equipped with a map-based navigation system, the destination point is downloaded directly to that system, which then calculates the route based on the in-vehicle navigation preferences set by the driver.

(There's also mention of using Bluetooth to download Google Map information from handheld devices -- iPhones, Androids, what have you -- but the press release is really vague on how that works.)

"But what the hey?", you ask. "Can't I already navigate using Sync's satellite navigation feature?" And yes, grasshopper, you'd be correct. But Google Maps fills an important gap -- a social gap. Take a fairly common situation: someone emails or texts you directions to a meeting. You could stop, enter that into the satnav, and go on your way, but using Google Maps, the info is automatically imported, then synched to your car. That saves you the hassle of dealing with keypad entry -- or the danger of foolishly trying to do that while driving.

A similar arrangement is being planned by GM, to coordinate with its OnStar service. We imagine it'll look a lot like the video preview we saw for the Chevrolet Volt a couple of weeks ago. It won't eliminate the need for drivers to maintain OnStar subscriptions, which are an important revenue stream for GM. After all, Google Maps can't offer much assistance in the event of a crash. However, it marks another step toward an interesting triangular relationship between you, your mobile phone, and your car.

And of course, we probably don't need to remind you that similar functionality has rolled out on Audi's MultiMedia Interface, or MMI, and on certain non-U.S. BMW models.

Apart from the social element -- which is important and slightly mind-blowing -- this partnership between Google and automakers may represent a paradigm shift in terms of the way that car companies work. Automakers aren't know for being "open"; in fact, they're typically very possessive when it comes to their products. This development -- and others that will come via in-car apps -- proves that automakers can and often should drop that proprietary stances and be flexible enough to work with companies outside the industry. It's a far cry from open-source, but maybe not too far.

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