As Apple CarPlay and Android Auto make an impact, overall progress stalls

Image Credit: Audi

Don’t ever push the voice button on any new car.

If you don’t have a phone hooked up using a USB cable, it’s a little embarrassing.

The “voice assistance” enabled on most cars these days, from nearly every automaker, is about seven years out of date. You can move to the next track for the current song, walk through a complex decision tree to get directions (usually in a way that requires you spell out the exact street names), and maybe activate the Bluetooth connection if you’re lucky. That’s it. An entire button on most new cars that basically does something you could do way back in 2010? Not good.

I know this because I first started testing cars around 2010, and the buttons worked the same way. They can’t come close to anything related to AI, don’t answer questions, can’t understand simple navigation requests, and are basically ornamental now that Apple CarPlay and Android Auto have become so common. The problem, of course, is that CarPlay and Android Auto haven’t really changed that much in the past two years, so progress on voice assistants in cars, when you think about the market as a whole, has stalled out…or is at least waiting for Apple and Google to get busy with some new innovations beyond adding a few more commands and an app or two.

Don’t get me wrong, I like how the phone bots work. Once you connect up an iPhone or a Google Pixel phone, for example, you can control your…

Connected cars help me re-rediscover podcasts

Podcasting has risen in popularity, sunk like a stone, then recovered more times than your favorite celebrity trying to make a comeback. Back when podcasts first debuted around 2005, the idea seemed strange — like having your own radio station or talk show. I remember creating one way back in 2006 or so with all of the newbie hallmarks like cheesy intro music and awkward audio cuts.

Then, after the success of the Serial and Revolutions podcasts, I started getting into them again. Obviously, most of us were already used to having a device that plays them easily on Android and iOS, but the new podcast revolution was different this time for me. In my view, the shows rivaled what you can hear on the radio and in many ways were even better. Serial is up there with most television news programs. You could play any show from a previous season, which has always been true. Yet, having access to every podcast from Serial (instead of the one your cousin does with his friends talking about goth rock bands) is suddenly more impressive.

Recently, I re-rediscovered podcasts in a car I’m testing, the 2017 VW Tiguan. After connecting up with Apple CarPlay using a USB cable and seeing my iPhone 7 Plus apps pop-up in the dash display, I finally noticed the podcast icon next the the ones for music, nav, and texting by voice….

The voice memo feature in the Volvo V90 Cross Country actually works

It’s not a voicebot like Alexa, but it does the job.

A voice memo feature in the 2017 Volvo V90 Cross Country can record everything you say, then send the recorded clip to any email address. I tested the feature on the V90, a large and wide wagon with a powerful turbocharged and supercharged 316-horsepower engine.

As you drive, you can pull up one of several apps in the dashboard, including Spotify and one for checking the weather. You can also connect your phone over USB and use Android Auto or Apple CarPlay to make phone calls, use the navigation system on your phone, see and send text messages, and listen to music. Next year, Google plans to integrate Android directly into the dashboard interface of a Volvo, no phone required. Yet the app that really caught my eye in the V90 is called “Record and Send.”

As you drive, you can press a large microphone button and then dictate a memo — I tried several shorter messages like “remember to pick up milk after work,” and a few longer notations, including one that was essentially the beginning of this article. The V90 has two…