It has been over a year in the making but Chevrolet has become the first of nine manufacturers to integrate Apple’s Siri personal voice assistant into its MyLink infotainment system, with the Spark and Sonic LTZ and RS to gain the feature next year.
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Since Siri launched in 2011 with the iPhone 4S, the obvious solution to a lot of automotive entertainment systems has become a little more obvious. Instead of relying on the vehicle’s media system to do certain tasks with technology that becomes outdated by the time it gets to manufacturing phase, why not outsource it to the driver’s smartphone, which gets updated far more frequently and runs the latest technology.

This has been the approach that a few automotive manufacturers have already committed too. The idea is rather simple, by integrating an “Eyes Free” button into the vehicle’s steering wheel, the Chevrolet evokes Siri to listen to the driver’s commands. These can be anything from sending a message, checking your calendar, changing or playing songs and responding to questions that can be answered by voice.

In reality this feature is already available on basically all cars that synch to an iPhone 4S or 5 via Bluetooth, but requires physical contact with the phone. What’s unique about Eyes Free, which is currently not possible to achieve by pressing the home button on a Bluetooth connected iPhone, is the ability to switch from radio to iPod mode, not having to physically touch the phone to get a response and not having the screen light up (limiting distraction). What it can’t do, deliberately, is answer the more complicated questions that require a visual answer. This is done so to limit driver distraction.

The current problem that Siri via Bluetooth integration faces is the amount of white noise that tends to interfere with voice commands. We have personally found it difficult to get Siri to understand us via Bluetooth on many cars (but not all) given the road noise found inside a moving vehicle.

When driving it’s much more effective (but illegal) to hold an iPhone to your mouth and talk to Siri directly rather than attempt to go via Bluetooth. This is due to the iPhone’s ability to use its three microphones to determine between human voice and white noise (using noise cancelling technology), a feature that we hope car manufacturers can integrate into their in-built microphones.

This is clearly phase one of the Siri integration for General Motors, as the company already has an iPhone app for its OnStar service that allows owners to do much, much more. The OnStar iPhone app can:

  • Find a destination on your phone and send it directly to your OnStar Turn-by-Turn or In-Dash navigation system
  • Lock/unlock your doors from any distance
  • Start your vehicle remotely (based on vehicle capability)
  • Control your Holden Volt charging and charge mode settings
  • Activate your Horn & Lights to help locate your vehicle
  • Contact an OnStar Advisor, Roadside Assistance or your Preferred Dealer
  • View real-time fuel information, including fuel range, litres of fuel remaining and your lifetime fuel economy
  • View your Holden Volt battery state of charge, electric range, electric miles and litres per 100km
  • Check your current lifetime mileage
  • Check your remaining oil life
  • View your current tire pressure information
  • Access account information

We suspect all these features will eventually be built into Siri directly down the line without the need for an app, so you could indeed tell your iPhone a destination and it will synch that up with the car’s navigation system.

Ultimately Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android mobile operating systems are likely to come out with a set of standard commands that can be integrated into any car’s infotainment system – much in the same way that Bluetooth connectivity protocols has become a standard across all cars. If it happens, it will lead to more and more manufacturers implementing better integration with smartphones.

Manufacturers such as Mercedes-Benz and BMW are also working on integrating Siri into their COMAND and iDrive infotainment systems.

Holden has confirmed that Siri integration technology will feature locally in the Holden Barina Spark, with Holden's social media and digital communications manager Andrea Matthews, telling CarAdvice that, "Siri will come to Barina CDX." Expect more information on this ahead of the system's release.