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Digital Shortcuts

I came to think of the three buttons on the watch as an elaborate work-around to find things in DriveStyle, which itself supplanted the simpler use of analog buttons on the dash. Once you start daisy-chaining, I guess, it's hard to stop.

While parked in my driveway, I had taken a look at DriveStyle’s social functionality — like access to bite-size Facebook posts, tweets, or a social playlist of videos posted by friends. Those social tasks didn’t make sense to me. When I hit the road, I have zero desire to hear a robotic voice reading Ellen DeGeneres's latest tweets, one of the preset favorites on the loaner car. Things might be different if DriveStyle could read my texts or emails to me — but it can't, because iOS won't give it access to them.

That left me looking for watch-based enhancements to the actual driving experience. I found the first example when I clicked my Pebble watch to bring up the Glympse app. The watch's only contribution to the proceedings was providing a shortcut to start the app.

From there, I used the analog rotary dial on the center console to find my wife's email address in the phone's contacts, and set a time limit of 30 minutes. A moment later, my wife (back home) clicked on a link to open a page where she could track my progress on a map — eliminating any question about when I would be home. That was kind of handy, helping to avoid those inevitable texts: "R u close?" and "Be there in 5."

As I drove, I found another item called “Places, Powered by Google” helpful, at least up to a point. That enabled searching for points of interest in a way that offers some improvement over the convoluted process most car-navigation systems force upon their users — usually by forcing them through a series of clumsy menus.

The Places function, by contrast, at least allows you to search on words like "coffee," even if you do have to use the rotary dial to pick letters off the screen one at a time. The plus side here is that the DriveStyle app offers autocomplete results on the seven-inch screen, trumping the vehicle's native navigation system, and was available even on the move. (There's no voice recognition in the DriveStyle app for text entry.)

A list of nearby cafes came up, providing distance from my location. Selecting one of the results allowed me to see open hours, star ratings, and a Google street view (controllable by the rotary dial). The way the street view images displayed, moving across as the dial spins, was slick.

Mercedes realizes that smartphone innovation far outpaces the auto industry’s lumbering development cycle. By the time an automotive OEM can update its hardware, interface, and apps, the electronics industry is at least a generation or two ahead. For example, the demo car natively connected to the Internet via 3G, while the tethered phone in the glove box was streaming by 4G LTE. The DriveStyle platform can add new apps as developers roll them out. Eventually, developers’ kits will allow third-party innovators to add driving apps.

Source: Pebble