App-driven life: Making smart cars even smarter

Smart cars bring to mind fuel-efficiency, Japan, genius engineering -- but what about intelligence? Now car makers are getting in on the app game, providing drivers with a wealth of information behind the wheel. 

Ann Hermes
Smart cars don't just mean high fuel efficiency anymore. With the development of car-specific apps, drivers like Orquidania Tejada in Watertown, Mass. can get a wealth of information about nearby places and people.

Can your car use apps? High-end Lexus cars now come with digital dashboards. These car displays (about the size of a short but wide laptop screen placed just above the gearshift) offer built-in maps and directions. However, they really come to life once you connect the car to an iPhone, BlackBerry, or Android phone.

The Lexus Enform application – which is free to download, but requires a Lexus to work – uses the phone's data connection to pipe in music and restaurant reviews. Lexus teamed up with seven of the most popular online services to put a version of their mobile apps into the Enform app. There's (for showtimes), OpenTable (for restaurant reservations), Pandora and iHeartRadio (for music), Bing (for search), Yelp (for reviews), and Facebook Place (for posting your location to Facebook).

Lexus chose a good cross section of apps but incorporated fairly handicapped versions of each service. Since your phone is already in the car, you might as well just use the original, full-featured versions of these popular apps and not bother with Enform's $7 monthly fee.

Enform adds in voice controls for most of these apps, which is nice. Though one does wonder when a driver is supposed to be using these things, especially since several of the apps require someone to be looking at the screen.


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