Smartphones Will Replace OnStar and Similar Systems

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Okay, maybe that is an exaggeration. Maybe the smart phone won’t take over the world, but it is likely that the smart phone will take over the automotive industry’s incessant desire to provide navigation and emergency communications technology.

Earlier this month Toyota Motor Corp. announced it will introduce a technology similar to GM’s OnStar for select Toyota models. As a special introductory offer, new car buyers will receive a one-year free subscription to the service.

While we agree that the navigation and emergency assistance that OnStar – and soon Toyota – provides is an excellent service, OnStar and the like aren’t necessary anymore with the advent of smartphones.

Toyota has announced the creation of a competitor to GM’s OnStar service, but why? Smartphones currently offer many of the benefits of OnStar, and it’s only a matter of time until smartphones replace OnStar completely.

“Smartphone” is a term used to describe a hand held device that operates much like a computer – such as a Blackberry, iPhone, etc. These phones can easily access the Internet and often have full e-mail functionality. In addition, a smart phone may include a camera, contact manager, file storage, and navigation software. One of OnStar’s biggest benefits is the navigation assistance, but many new smartphones offer comparable navigation services, and unlike OnStar, you don’t have to be in your car to get directions.

Did I mention that these devices are also phones so you can call anyone you want, including 911?

If you are paying for the phone and your monthly service anyway, a smart phone may be a more efficient tool.

However, there are a few things that a smart phone can’t do. Toyota says the new system will be a satellite-based navigation system and if the airbag is deployed, then emergency support will be contacted without you touching a button. Additionally, if the car is stolen then the authorities may be able to locate the vehicle using the technology.

At the moment, smart phones aren’t actually this smart, but in a couple of years they could be. It wouldn’t take much to create a device that would interface with your vehicle computer and your smartphone, and automatically call 911 if the vehicle computer reported an airbag deployment. This device could also send you emails with important vehicle data (just like GM’s OnStar system).

Why would Toyota invest in a technology that will soon be replaced?

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Filed Under: Auto News


RSSComments (18)

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  1. Perry Petek says:

    OnStar is an awesome service. Would like to see it on all vehicles. Oh, something else a smart phone can’t do- unlock the doors. Hurry up Toyota.

  2. tmac says:

    how do people still lock their keys in the car anymore ???????

  3. Perry – Good point – a smartphone can’t unlock doors…yet. As the article says, it wouldn’t take much to develop a device that would plug into the OBDII port on your vehicle and interact with the vehicle computer. Still, until someone markets this particular accessory, OnStar and Toyota’s competitor will offer some features that no one else can match. Thanks for commenting.

  4. Mickey says:

    A very expensive system also. After your first year it costs you another $200 per year and it has to go with verizon wireless. You can’t just cancelled it through Onstar. You have to go through both verizon and Onstar to cancel your service.

  5. Mickey – Wow – had no idea. That’s definitely a reason to think about skipping OnStar. Maybe that’s why Toyota launched a competing product.

  6. Mickey says:

    Jason remember I had an 06 Silverado and I had added a verizon line on the truck which all buttons were on the steering column. When after a year of free Onstar I renewed it and then after 4 months I traded the truck in and it wa a big hassle in dropping service from Onstar. It was simple dropping the verizon line from Verizon but I had to go through Onstar first then they contact Verizon and I contact verizon to drop the line and this took 3 months to get it right. I had to drop it twice. It was like having a nasty cold kept coming back.

  7. Dave says:

    Another thing OnStar has now is a type of lowjack. If your vehicle gets stolen, OnStar can track down where your vehicle is, notify law enforcement, then switch off the accelerator when law enforcement is ready to do the recovery.

  8. Mickey says:

    Dave that’s a good thing to have. I had lowjack before also in my fords. I’m not sure of the price is now but I bet it’s over $30 month for that incentive.

  9. Dave – You’re right about the theft benefits of OnStar. A smartphone isn’t able to do much more than navigation right now, but as expensive as they’re getting maybe theft recovery will be a new feature. Anyways, just for reference (and because I know about this), the actual LoJack system is actually quite a bit nicer than the theft recovery system OnStar uses. LoJack uses a hidden FM transmitter, OnStar uses a cell-phone. To disable OnStar, you rip the antenna off the roof. To disable LoJack, you hunt through the entire vehicle and hope you can find the transmitter (which is un-marked and hard to identify). Most police departments have cruisers with LoJack computers that listen for and track down a stolen car with a LoJack transmitter. LoJack doesn’t rely upon GPS co-ordinates to transmit it’s location like OnStar does, so it can’t be defeated by going in an underground parking garage. Finally, LoJack is a one-time expense and lasts a lifetime. OnStar, not so much. Not that I’m a LoJack salesperson or anything! 🙂

  10. James Simpson says:

    Just a few things a “smart”phone can’t do that OnStar can:

    1. OnStar is available where there isn’t a cellular signal.
    2. OnStar performs comprehensive vehicle diagnostics.
    3. OnStar calls emergency help if you’re in an accident. God forbid, but you could be bleeding out, unconscious, and your “smart”phone flew out the window.

    There’s much more, of course, but this article is an Apples and Oranges comparison. Toyota is making a smart move.

  11. Mickey says:

    James you forgot the price also. A rip off. I keep my cell phone in my pocket so I don’t use it while I’m driving. I guess you do….. That says it…. Also jason mention ripped off antennae and guess what ONstar can’t hear you. What will you do after your free years worth? Get another vehicle… Yes James it’s a great system but way too much. It all falls down to god’s will James. If it was meant to be Onstar can’t help. You did forget to mention Onstar can track the car itself if stolen.

  12. James – All good points, but I don’t think you’re right about OnStar working outside a cellular coverage area (a quick search shows that OnStar uses a powerful cellular phone to transmit signals). Still, you’re absolutely right about what smart phones can and can’t do right now. Our thoughts here are that in the near future, the smart phone will seriously erode and replace many of the features that make OnStar (and systems like it) useful. Smart phones can’t detect accidents now, but there’s absolutely no reason that one couldn’t be programmed to detect a painfully rapid deceleration if it was “docked” and receiving power from the vehicle. It could then quiz the driver to respond, and if a response wasn’t received, the smart phone could call the cellular service and request help. It’s not happening now, but in 2 years? My guess is that it will be (along with portable diagnostics, navigation, etc. basically everything you can do now with a laptop computer).

  13. Lauren says:

    I do some web work for OnStar and james everyhing you were saying as dead on. Onstar just made a video on it too.

  14. Lauren – Good link. It makes a case for Onstar for sure.

  15. Jacob says:

    Smartphones can do automatic crash response now, it was patented in the My911 app

  16. Tim says:

    OnStar is on its way out. Too expensive, and stadard AVL product can do what they do. My money is on My911 (, I understand they have an AVL tie in solution on its way as well. That will definitely take OnStar out of the market.

  17. Kat says:

    Bad thing about smartphone is if you are out so far in the wilderness there are no towers to pick up a signal. That is where OnStar comes in to save the day.

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