Apple's Siri 'Eyes Free' Solution Coming to BMW, Audi, Other Cars

Landrover, BMW, Audi and others have committed to integrating an on-wheel or in-dash button for connecting to Apple’s Siri-based "Eyes Free" solution within one year. Change the industry? Sure. Solve distracted driving? Who knows.

Apple€™s updates to Siri include an in-car solution called €œEyes Free,€ the iPhone maker announced June 11, during the opening day of its Worldwide Developers Conference. Apple already has several high-end carmakers lined up to offer this Siri in the dashboard.

Land Rover/Jaguar, BMW, GM, Mercedes, Audi, Toyota, Chrysler and Honda are all on board with a commitment to integrate the solution€”which will include a button on the steering wheel or in the dashboard to instantly connect with Siri€”within just 12 months.

Notably absent from the list, reported Jalopnik, €œare automakers like Ford and Kia/Hyundai, both of whom have a deal with Microsoft (Ford with SNYC and Kia with UVO). Is there now going to be a Mac and a PC guy for cars?€

The smartphone and automotive industries have long been dancing around each, trying to figure out quite how they might team up in a major way.

In 2007, Nokia introduced Nokia 500 Auto Navigation, a hands-free solution that offered directions and could re-route users through traffic jams, and in May 2010, it announced, with Audi, BMW, Daimler, Porsche and Volkswagen, a Terminal Mode specification that could be used for purposes such as letting a driver access the music on her smartphone through the car€™s infotainment system or, working the other way, send performance information about the car to a driver€™s phone.

In 2010, Research In Motion purchased QNX, which at the time had its software in more than 20 million vehicles. And this June, Verizon Communications purchased Hughes Telematics, which offers telematics for the automotive and fleet industries. Both AT&T and RIM have this year shown off a Porsche 911 running QNX and fitted, up front and behind the headrests, with Playbook tablets and voice-recognition software that could be asked for directions to the nearest gas station, for example. Whether the automaker, the driver or another party should pony up for the cellular connection, an AT&T spokesperson at the event told eWEEK, was a matter still widely under discussion.

It would hardly be surprising if Apple€”as it did with portable music players and smartphones€”turned up late to a contest with just the entry to win it.

€œApple€™s model is to identify a space that is underserved by existing technology and adapt their solutions to that space, creating a solution that works better than anything else. From this standpoint, the Eyes Free system using Siri is a natural,€ Ken Hyers, a senior analyst with Technology Business Research (TBR), told eWEEK.

Charles King, principal analyst with Pund-IT, says the deal makes perfect sense for both Apple€™s strategies around Siri and its new partnership with TomTom.

€œThe deal is actually more important for TomTom€”which €¦ has gotten hammered as navigation has moved away from standalone products to smartphone platforms,€ said King.

King also noted the effect that an increased use of Siri could have on users€™ data plans.

€œThat was a significant point when Siri launched last year€”since much of the processing required for voice recognition happened behind the scenes in Apple€™s data centers, users without unlimited plans initially [until they figured it out] got slammed with extra charges,€ said King. €œAs many, if not most, cellular providers are moving away from unlimited plans, using Siri regularly in the car could be an expensive proposition.€

TBR€™s Hyers raised another concern€”the potential distraction of Siri and the need to sell €œEyes Free€ as a solution to distracted driving.

€œAny number of studies have shown that distracted driving is not solved by hands-free solutions, because the distraction exists, whether hands or voice are used to operate the phone while driving,€ said Hyers.

€œIn fact, some studies have compared hands-free phone use to driving after having a beer or two, to show how much attention is devoted to a call,€ Hyers added. €œStill, if Eyes Free can keep people from fondling their iPhones while driving, it has to be better than nothing.€

Follow Michelle Maisto on Twitter @eWEEK_Michelle.