It's been said that the nail that sticks out gets hammered down.
That may explain the public's reaction to early in-car connectivity setups like BMW's iDrive and Ford's Sync, both of which got significant hype followed by equally significant negative press. Both systems have improved drastically in the years following their debuts, but bad memories linger.
Unlike its pioneering competitors, GM has taken a slightly different approach to infotainment. For at least a decade it appeared that the General had ignored the center stack altogether, sticking with bright green LEDs and voice-only turn-by-turn from OnStar. But it turns out that what looked like negligence was actually strategic: GM engineers have been quietly developing some impressive infotainment systems behind the scenes.
We've had many chances to try out the latest versions of Chevy's MyLink and, lately, Buick's IntelliLink. Each time, we've walked away impressed. While prior releases were overwrought, with too many tiny buttons and cluttered touchscreens, the new setups seem to be streamlined to the point where they enhance—rather than distract from—the in-car experience.
And they appear to be getting even better: GM engineers recently gave us a chance to take a look at an IntelliLink update equipped with apps from GM's new application framework.
The framework allows developers to write apps specifically for GM vehicles that will run on a car's infotainment system, taking advantage of either a phone's data connection or the vehicle's own in-car wireless hotspot.
Those apps must be optimized for in-car use, which should make them easier to use than fumbling with a smartphone while trying to keep your eyes on the road. Take, for example, the NPR app. If you want to listen to Morning Edition on the drive home from work, you can select the podcast of the show with about as many button-presses as changing a radio station.
So far, apps from NPR, The Weather Channel, Slacker, IHeartRadio, and TuneIn are expected to be on board when the app-enabled infotainment systems ship sometime in 2014. GM says the availability of an open framework should entice developers to create even more software.