Tuesday, November 10, 2015

How Applications Work in New Cars & How they Can Affect Wireless Plans

Each car manufacturer implementing technology applications into their vehicles creates a different software interface to manage this technology.  However, there are some common features of these applications that work the same across brands and models.  Understanding how these applications work, and which ones utilize a cellular data plan, is important and can prevent data usage overages.  Some features of the newer applications include:
  • Playing music from a smartphone or mp3 player through the car speakers
  • Streaming music services like Slacker, Pandora, Spotify and iHeartRadio through the car speakers
  • Getting news and sports updates
  • Searching for places based on current location
  • Social Media

Car manufacturers that include these new applications often categorize them as "technology" or "audio connectivity" under the features section when browsing their vehicles.  The applications supported vary by manufacturer and can change yearly.  Luckily, there are only a couple of ways for a smartphone or tablet device to connect to the car.  Devices can be connected wirelessly using Bluetooth, or directly using a USB cable.  

Connecting using Bluetooth, a wireless standard for transferring data over short distances, is a process that needs to be done once for each device but will connect automatically each time thereafter.  To connect a device using Bluetooth, verify Bluetooth is active on the device, select devices from the car interface, add / search for devices, select the device from the list and accept the connection on the device.  To use an application when connected using Bluetooth, start the application on the device and select Bluetooth as the source in the vehicle's interface.  To connect a device using a USB cable, simply plug the appropriate ends into the device and the car USB jack.  To use an application when connected using a USB cable, connect the device and select the desired source application in the vehicle interface.  NOTE:  For specific instructions on how to connect a device to a vehicle using Bluetooth consult the manual or online support.

When a device with a cellular data plan connects to the vehicle's applications, those applications are allowed to stream data using the local device's cellular data plan.  This means some applications use the data plan and depending upon the size of any plan, overage charges may occur if too much data is streamed.  Generally, anytime an application pulls information from the Internet, the data is coming from the data plan.  The device acts like a pass through allowing applications in the vehicle to access data it would otherwise not be able to get.  The list below is a sample of common applications supported by car manufacturers and whether or not the app uses the cellular data plan.

NOTE:  This list is a generalization and some usage may vary based on the application type and the vehicle.

Whichever applications we choose to use in newer vehicles, it is important to understand how they work.  Bluetooth is a wireless technology for short range data transmission and can be used to connect devices like smartphones, tablets, and music players to vehicles.  Some applications use data local to the device, like playing existing mp3's, while others access information from the Internet by using the device's cellular data plan.  Understanding how these applications work, and which ones use our data plans can help us prevent data overages and the charges that may come with them.  As time goes on, more and more applications will be supported by cars which makes our lives easier but only if we truly grasp how they work. 

As always, understanding how a technology works can save time as well as money!

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