I’m actually pretty excited about the newly redesigned Smart ForTwo. It’s based on the new Renault Twingo, and that platform is about as close to my ideal modern Beetle as anyone is likely to make any time soon. But what I want to point out is a detail, albeit a big one — the Smart’s phone dock system looks really good.
There’s two big things to make note of here — first, I’m trying really hard to avoid typing “Smart smartphone” and second, the Smart seems to be the first car to actually leverage the fact that almost everyone already has a high-quality color LCD screen in their pockets, so why build another one into the dash?
I’m excited because this is basically the concept I proposed using on my hypothetical mid-engine, entry-level Beetle. I’m, of course, not the first to come up with this concept — let the driver’s smartphone handle the car’s infotainment/navigation/center stack screen tasks — but I think Smart may be the first to really implement it.
Well, Datsun did sort of have a similar physical docking system, but there’s some big differences here: the Datsun one was basically just a phone holder. Smart’s docking system holds the phone at physically the right center-stack location on the dash, and communicates via Bluetooth to a special Smart app that provides controls for the car’s nav/infotainment system. Here’s what it does, according to the robot-translated German site:
The functions of the smart crossConnect app at a glance:
- Control of the main functions of the radio’s audio system.
- Music: Audio streaming of personal music or wide range of international staff online radio stations.
- Navigation including POI search.
- Telephony: access to personal contacts.
- Park Place Finder for special smart-parking.
- Display the nearest smart add-on partner.
- Car Info: Displays the most important vehicle data, such as speed, fuel consumption, G-Force.
- Car Finder: Storage of parking including display of the current parking time.
- TripAdvisor Monitor: record of past trips including driving score.
I’m especially pleased to see “G-Force” listed as part of the “most important vehicle data.” Looking at this list, this is pretty much moots what people tend to use that center screen for, and it has the advantage of being able to go with you when you leave the car to remind you where you parked, and how much time you have left on your meter.
Also, if your phone is doing some of the center console/infotainment work for you, people may be less inclined or able to do stupid things like text and drive.
My biggest gripe about the system right now is that it looks like it still requires a separate, physical cable to handle charging the phone, which you’d likely need to do if you have it running, with Bluetooth active, as your car’s center stack screen. I don’t see why they couldn’t have integrated 5V of USB-level charging power into the mount itself, with some sort of swappable end to accommodate iPhones or Android phones or whatever. I mean, the USB port is nearby and a dangling cable isn’t the end of the world, but they came this far, and adding charging to the dock would have just make it so much better.
Still, this is a good start. The app interface looks pretty clean and easy to use, from what I can tell from these pictures (I tried to find and download the app to my phone, but the only Smart app that comes up in the US App Store is something that’s not this, and a crapload of brain puzzle things).
I’m very curious to try this system out on my own, and see if it makes a viable case for letting your phone take over some of the potentially redundant hardware in your car. I could see one day your phone even replacing your car keys, which would be convenient, and could leave you even more boned if you lose or break your phone than you are now. Or if your phone runs out of power, you could be stranded.
Okay, on second thought, let’s take this one step at a time.