After enjoying a healthy lead with Sync, Ford may finally have to watch its back. GM officially debuted MyLink and IntelliLink at the 2011 New York International Auto Show, and its new smartphone-integrated infotainment platform could be a game changer for the industry.
Badged as IntelliLink in Buick and GMC vehicles, MyLink uses Bluetooth or USB to sync the occupant's smartphone with the vehicle, and integrate certain entertainment applications with the head unit. If you don't own a smartphone, don't worry--you still have access to all the standard entertainment system features, such as CD player, audio inputs for iPods, and XM satellite radio capability using the new touch screen or physical control buttons. But by syncing your phone to add apps to the MyLink infotainment system, you get seamless connectivity, steering wheel controls, voice activation, and touch screen operation.
For now, Pandora and Stitcher are the only two mobile apps allowed into the new platform. GM hasn't announced an approval process for authorizing other apps, such as iHeartRadio, Spotify, or Mog, but you can expect others to be announced after they pass the safety sniff test. But it's not an open-door policy.
You can probably forget about business applications and games in MyLink anytime soon, and just because you have Google Maps on your phone doesn't mean you'll get to use it in your car's in-dash screen. Your navigation choices are still limited to GM's proprietary navigation system, or you can forgo maps entirely and use optional downloadable turn-by-turn directions provided by OnStar.
Offering phone-based entertainment apps isn't the only way GM is catching up to Ford's Sync system. In addition to touch-screen interactivity, GM gave its voice activation technology a much needed upgrade. Now both Ford and GM use Nuance and Gracenote for voice activation of their entertainment systems and navigation. However, with 10,000 natural language commands and years of practice, Ford's Sync might retain the upper hand when it comes getting the car to understand what you want.
Side by side, GM and Ford are starting to look like a more even fight. But the two systems aren't really comparable, says OnStar President Linda Marshall. She points to GM's trump card: OnStar.
The optional safety and traffic service offers industry leading safety features, such as automatic crash response, diagnostics, airbag notification. Its 24-7 safety advisors will also be able to answer any question or provide assistance using the new entertainment system features--much easier than an audio list of commands or help screen.
"OnStar combined with MyLink is a seamless entertainment, safety, and security solution for the customer," Marshall said. "Ford offers 911 Assist and AppLink, and although the offerings are similar, they're not as refined."
That said, OnStar is optional, and only 50 percent of users continue their subscription once the year-long promotion ends.
We'll hear soon enough how good of a job GM did revamping their infotainment system--the MyLink platform will be available in the 2012 Chevrolet Equinox and 2012 Chevrolet Volt this fall, and in the 2013 Chevy Malibu next year. IntelliLink will be standard in all 2012 Veranos, and available in the LaCross and Regal later this year, and in Buicks will feature a different color scheme with enhanced graphics for satellite radio stations.