Toyota: “We’re democratizing the connected car experience”

Toyota: “We’re democratizing the connected car experience”

What is Toyota Entune and why is this a platform the industry should be excited about?

Toyota Entune is part of a rich history that we’ve had over the last decade in telematics. That history includes systems like Lexus Enform, Safety Connect, Destination Assist, and most recently the Lexus Enform Mobile application. Entune is the next generation. It allows consumers to be able to download a single application to their mobile phones, and that single application then opens up an array of other applications that customers can safely integrate into their in-vehicle experience. These are applications that customers are already familiar with and using. We conducted myriad proprietary customer research programs, and our customers told us that they use Bing search, various Internet radio properties such as Pandora and iheartradio, as well as OpenTable.com and MovieTickets.com. So we developed this suite of applications that makes all of these applications safely part of the connected car experience.

With technology changing so quickly, how did you ensure that Toyota Entune keeps up with the latest trends?

We’ve had experience with legacy telematics units, with the Analog Sunset, for example. In this day and age, there’s kind of a mini-Internet boom with a lot of apps being conceived by various companies. And who knows what will happen in the future, whether those companies will change, be bought, sold, or so on. So what we wanted to ensure, since the vehicle ownership cycle is a lot longer than the mobile cycle, is that we have the ability to control the content from our side and keep it updated for our customers.

By downloading the single app, we now can update, add applications and new content, change content, and—heaven forbid—fix bugs over the air. That’s an important distinction that Entune has that other manufacturers do not. The closest thing another manufacturer has, you would have to go to the corporate website, download the firmware or software update or content change to a jet drive, go to the vehicle, upload it, and change it that way. With us, just like with your iPhone, you would receive an update over the air that you have a new application or new content, and once you carry your phone in the vehicle, it aligns and changes, whether it’s the hardware or software of the vehicle or the mobile.

What about distracted driving?

This is something we’ve taken very seriously. When you pair your phone with the head unit and you’re driving along, the Entune application on the handset is essentially disabled. You can’t interact with the apps on your handset once you pair the phone and press or ask for the apps tab on the display. What that’s doing is effectively taking the device out of the customer’s hand. I can’t speak for other applications on the person’s handset that they may have already downloaded, but with Entune, you are not able to navigate Bing, OpenTable, and so forth on the handset once you open it up and see it on the nav system or display. Entune has state-of-the-art voice recognition that makes it easy for the driver to stay focused on driving as well.

The other thing that we’ve taken very seriously is menu depth. With content providers like iheartradio or Pandora, you will not be able to scroll down through play lists or station lists or create a new station on Pandora while you’re driving. You certainly will be able to while you’re stopped. You can select your favorites, you can rate the song up or down, or you can press fast forward if the song is not one you like, so we’ve tried to simplify the operation. That’s really the key word; we’ve simplified the interface. We’ve taken the device out of the customer’s hand. We have font size that’s befitting of alliance guidelines. In the Bing search, for instance, when you ask for let’s say “Starbucks” in the area you’re driving or parked, it will reveal only six results, whereas some applications or OEMs deliver many more with a much reduced font size. We try to reveal only the very top few to make it safer for our drivers.

Toyota Entune is entering a competitive marketplace. At CES, Audi unveiled MMI Touch, and there’s Ford SYNC, Mercedes mbrace, OnStar, and so on. How will Toyota Entune differentiate itself from its competitors?
Once again, the ability to upgrade wirelessly is a big difference. We’ll also try to keep the availability on as many phones as we possibly can. I think our focus on driver distraction is absolutely primary. If you look at our total telematics implementation, we believe very strongly in the embedded safety aspect. We think it’s truly critical to have an embedded navigation and security solution in the vehicle. Now we’ve taken the best of embedded safety and added the best of mobile with cloud-based content. It’s truly a hybrid approach.

Telematics solutions are still something of a novelty item to most people. What will make a platform like Entune viable, even essential, in today’s market?

First and foremost, the Entune app will be available not just on the iPhone and smartphones, but it will be available on several feature phones as well. So we’re democratizing the experience, bringing the experience of Entune down into the feature phone market where other manufacturers are focusing on ease of deployment on the upper end of the food chain. It’s more work for us, it’s more work to keep abreast of the latest feature phones, but because our demographic is pretty wide, we can’t assume that everyone can afford a $400 to $800 smartphone.

The other thing is that we’re trying to keep our content varied. I think as we go forward from the initial implementation, we want to keep our suite of applications current and appealing to the customer. Of course, we’ll still be looking at the areas of navigation, convenience, productivity, and entertainment as the four content categories. We’re not going to be overwhelmed by the smorgasbord of possibilities out there. We want to make sure that it makes sense for vehicle environment, that navigation and use of features are intuitive and fitting within the vehicle mode. And I’ll be honest, Toyota is very pragmatic as a company. We don’t rush into things. We study the market very carefully, and take a step-by-step approach, but when we do it, we do it right.

If you found this of interest, Toyota will be giving an indepthpresentation on Entune at Telematics Detroit 2011, 8-9 June. For more information download the brochure here


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