From the rise of social media to the decline of social graces, smartphones have changed nearly everything about our existence. Now, the ubiquitous tools are even changing the way we drive.
The sleek microcomputer casually stashed away in your pocket or purse has an increasing amount in common with the hulking hunk of machinery in your driveway, thanks to a recent burst of technological innovation that has helped create the connected car.
No longer confined to the confines of a phone, apps are leaping out from the mobile devices to communicate with everything around them, allowing humans to bypass any number of responsibilities—or exert even more control—on the collective membership of the Internet of Things, including our automobiles.
And while the driving experience is heading for an even more monumental shift with the rise of autonomous cars, our phones have already gotten us far down the road toward true automotive evolution.
Remember several years ago when it seemed like the coolest thing in the world was to get a remote starter for your car installed on your keychain? (Okay, just us?)
Well, either way, you can chalk that trend up to one more innovation fever that was quelled by our smartphones.
A number of car apps now exist that offer the same remote car-starting service, from the convenience of your phone. But these programs don’t just give you a jump start on heating things up on a snowy day, or get things rolling before you get to your vehicle.
You can also control your stereo functions remotely, which won’t make it any less distracting to sing along or dance to music from the driver’s seat, but could cut down on the amount of time eyes are taken off the road and hands off the wheel to play vehicle DJ.
And some apps let you lock your car remotely, which doesn’t just secure your vehicle, but gives you the peace of mind that can only come from living in a world where it’s nearly impossible to lock your keys in your car. (Remember how embarrassing it was to call AAA to send someone out to help with that? …Just us?)
Walk in the Park
While we’re on the idea of staying remote…
The same company that offers the remote starting and locking services also offers a car app that can help you keep track of where your car is—at all times—from behind your phone screen.
You can set things up to receive alerts every time your car’s been moved or if it reaches certain speeds. This is reassuring in any number of situations, especially if you’re leaving your dad’s mint condition cherry red 1961 Ferrari 250GT with a couple of shady looking valets, for example.
For those more concerned about finding a place to park before they even start worrying about what their vehicle is doing without them, there are also apps that will scan an area for the fastest—and cheapest—options around, transforming what is easily one of the most miserable aspects of the driving experience.
Speaking of keeping track of things, you’ll also be able to keep tabs on any number of issues going on inside your car.
Vehicles are now epic producers of data, and a growing number of apps out there allow owners to access and extract some of those most important factors, including nearly everything about a car’s diagnostics.
Most of these work in tandem with a separate device that plugs directly into your car, but with the power of internet technology, you can use these tools to tell anything from your average fuel consumption to your biggest engine problems.
Some car apps even go the extra mile by determining when your car has broken down and sending a full report of where you are and what’s wrong with the vehicle to designated friends or family in case of and emergency.
Taking the Lead
Good thing we’ve gotten all that practice with swiping.
In an especially futuristic move—even for the always forward-looking automotive industry—Ford recently got a patent approved that would allow drivers to control their cars by tilting or swiping on their phones.
Just because the patent exists doesn’t mean the mechanism will ever be built into the cars. (The idea was hidden in the much-longer application Ford proposed to build cars with removable steering wheels and pedals.) But you may want to download a few extra driving video games on your phone, just in case.
Many of the car apps on this list are direct appeals to our nearly insatiable need for convenience. And these are no different.
A flurry of automakers has begun offering services that allow users to send destinations directly—and remotely—from their phones to their vehicles, priming up a car to put a bullseye on its destination and essentially getting your trip started before you even leave home.
It may seem like one small step for man now, but the technology likely represents a giant leap for automotive kind in the dawning age of self-driving cars, when vehicles will always need to know where, exactly, they’re going.