One of the reasons Apple CarPlay and Android Auto have proven so popular is they integrate a technology into the car that the customer is already familiar with. When users see the familiar Apple icons populate the infotainment screen, the excitement builds for them. “I know these icons! I see them every day! I’ll actually be able to figure this infotainment system out!” It sure beats the days of struggling with inputting single characters with a click wheel into a nav system, only to have the unit not find the address you are looking for.
Amazon’s Alexa takes this familiarity one step further, for those who use the service in the house. Having Alexa in the vehicle and asking it for the traffic, weather, or favorite podcast sure makes it easy for the end user. Alexa-philes know how to communicate with her. Alexa can even add a whole new level of connectivity and an easy-to-use interface – customers will be able to control home automation from their vehicle, or their vehicle from their house. Being able to shut the garage door after you pull out, or remote-starting your car on a cold day just by asking Alexa, is the ultimate luxury for Amazon-obsessed customers.
Next year, GM is making Alexa available on model-year 2018 and newer vehicles though an over-the-air firmware update through GM’s 4G LTE connectivity initiative and embedded-app framework. The update is scheduled to roll out during the first half of 2020. Heavy Alexa users are already excited, so hopefully there will be no unexpected rollout delays.
GM research shows that many customers prefer to use the same voice services they use in their home as in their vehicles. The Alexa voice experience in GM vehicles leverages the Alexa Auto Software Development Kit, which gives customers access to the usual Alexa skills and capabilities out of the gate. This will also enable GM to create custom skills in the future that are relevant to the customer’s vehicle. This collaboration represents the broadest rollout of an embedded Alexa Auto experience to date, and provides a tailored voice experience for Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac drivers with properly equipped vehicles.
GM and Alexa have worked together in the past to enable the Amazon Key app. This innovation allows delivery drivers to leave packages in the vehicle’s trunk through OnStar telematics. No special access is given to the driver – it is all handled remotely from Amazon home base. So, if OnStar has the ability to open the vehicle’s trunk, no reason why Alexa can’t open up the garage door!
Santiago Chammoro is the vice president of Global Connected Services for GM. He notes, “GM’s updateable app framework and vehicle connectivity lets us provide customers with new technologies that enhance the ownership experience, even to customers with vehicles that are already on the road. Bringing the Alexa experience to our vehicles is an example of how we are listening to our customers’ feedback, and offering them the voice technology of their choice.” Ned Curic, vice presdient of Alexa Auto, adds, “Customers already love using Alexa at home, and soon they can bring her with them on the go, whether they’re looking for a new car or own a compatible Chevrolet, Buick, GMC or Cadillac vehicle already on the road. We’re thrilled to be working with GM to help their customers stay more connected, more entertained, and more productive.”
GM engineers looked at three specific categories for using simple Alexa voice commands: Navigation, Media and Calling. On the navigation front, it is a lot less frustrating to input a navigation destination using a platform the customer is used to in their home. You can also ask Alexa for nearby restaurants and the GM nav will take you there. Or, for lower-trim vehicles, the OnStar app will spew out the directions. It is real innovation to allow a secondary service tie-into the native GM nav system for the ease of use of the end user. For Media, Alexa can play a specific song, station, audiobook, or podcast by bringing up the appropriate streaming service. Finally, for the calling function, Alexa will dial the right person, if the customer shares their contacts with Amazon. For some, this may not be information they are comfortable sharing. So a workaround is having Siri or Hey Google dial the right contact. But for those who use Alexa, it makes it easy.
Retailers can also profit from this news with the millions of legacy GM (and other) vehicles on the road. Retrofitting Alexa can be done with new head unit offerings from both Kenwood and JVC. As of right now, single-DIN units are available (after all, the Echo has few user controls), but double-DIN multimedia offerings are coming. Amazon itself offers the Echo Auto, but we all know a fully integrated solution is easier than one that relies on a Bluetooth or an Aux input – especially after you read some of the scathing reviews of how poorly the inexpensive Echo unit works in the vehicle. There are problems with it establishing a connection and understanding instructions. As professionals, we know the only in-car microphone that works well is one that is installed close to the driver’s mouth.
We are so down for Alexa in the car…and our customers are, too. As long as it performs well – which leaves the end user with just two options: Get a new GM or get an aftermarket unit with a professional installation.