Eyes Free Siri

Apple recently introduced “Eyes Free Siri”, an iOS 7 feature geared for use in automobiles. Designed to work with a designated button on the steering wheel, “Eyes Free Siri” would require users to give simple verbal commands to Siri, which will then execute them seamlessly. More complex commands, or anything which would require users to actually look at their phone, would be ignored.

The introduction of this new Siri implementation has the potential to become part of a much larger dashboard touch-screen panel that Apple recently secured the patent for. Apple’s working description of its system is a real mouthful: “Programmable tactile touch screen displays and man-machine interfaces for improved vehicle instrumentation and telematics.” 

Basically it would be a touch-screen for the car that lets users control everything from their wipers to their email accounts (when the car is stopped, of course). The goal, like the “Eyes Free Siri” is to let drivers do more without having to take their eyes off the road. Check out BTIG’s interesting demo on how “Eyes Free Siri” could potentially work with iTunes Radio in your car here. And while all these fancy new features may seem distracting, Apple’s patent states that the dashboard has the potential to “enhance interior safety and vehicle operation.”

As we pause for a moment to let the snark about Siri’s current limitations die down, this seems like a good time to evaluate the state of the art of connected cars. Virtually every car manufacturer now offers some kind of connected car system, with some being more elaborate and ambitious than the others. Some of the variations are proprietary systems to allow limited Internet connectivity inside the vehicle, e.g. Pandora integrated into the dashboard. Other systems focus on connecting a car and driver with a mobile device in a perfect storm of multi-tasking. Just this week, Sprint and IBM announced a joint venture for a 3rd party system that will sync your car and smartphone with the cloud.

But many connected car systems are still pretty buggy. A big reason is the clash between the cars and the devices. A recent LA Times article points out that “the technology in cars, which takes years to come to market, can’t keep pace with relentless smartphone updates.” The article gives numerous examples of the frustrations stemming from incompatibilities between these two types of machines that have become so vital to our daily lives.

But if the journey toward connected cars is driving us to distraction, just wait ‘til we get there. There’s growing evidence, according to the American Automobile Association, of “the common public misperception that hands-free means risk-free.” AAA recently released its own study which showed an extremely high level of mental distraction when drivers interact with the most sophisticated hands-free systems. “There is a looming public safety crisis ahead,” said the President of the AAA, “with the future proliferation of these in-vehicle technologies.”