|To: Mark Oliver who wrote (9121)||10/10/2000 9:12:17 AM|
|From: Mark Oliver||Read Replies (1) | Respond to of 10080|
|PRODUCT REVIEW: OnStar offers a safer way to cruise the superhighway |
Source: Associated Press
Publication date: 2000-10-05
NEW YORK (AP) -- No screen, no mouse, no keypad. Not the easiest way to cruise the Internet, but not a bad idea while cruising the highway.
On the surface, the latest additions to OnStar's vehicle communication system, an embedded car phone and a voice-activated Web service, may seem thin on high-tech bells and whistles, maybe even primitive.
But in using voice recognition to minimize the busy hands that usually accompany mobile communication, OnStar's "Personal Calling" and "Virtual Advisor" strike a nice compromise between the growing demand for wireless services and growing dismay over drivers who like to multitask behind the wheel.
The most appealing feature for many customers will be having their e-mail read to them as they drive, though like so many other Internet services the initial version of Virtual Advisor will require users to establish yet another e-mail address.
OnStar parent General Motors is introducing the new services on 32 of the 54 models that make up GM's year 2001 lineup. For now, however, those of OnStar's 400,000 subscribers who aren't ready to buy a new car won't be able to upgrade their systems to get the new services.
Rollout of the phone service began this week in the Northeast, and should spread nationwide by the end of March. Virtual Advisor's launch begins later this year.
Much like OnStar's existing safety and concierge services, delivered by live operator over speakerphone, the new calling and Web features are activated with a single button so drivers can keep their hands on the wheel and eyes on road.
But by contrast with the unlimited usage that comes with the $199 or $399 annual fee for OnStar's current operator-assisted services, both of the new offerings will be timed like a phone call and deducted from a prepaid bucket of wireless minutes.
OnStar hasn't announced what it will charge for air time but said the rates will be competitive with other wireless plans.
To use the new services, a driver will press a white button located alongside OnStar's blue and red buttons (which initiate a live connection with an operator to request emergency assistance or information such as driving directions).
Once the white button is pressed, the process is handsfree.
A recorded voice responds through the car's speakers and the driver verbally requests either of the two new services. The white button is also used to answer incoming calls and to hang up.
Unfortunately, the Virtual Advisor is a rather watered down version of the Internet, nearly identical to the information services offered by the voice-activated telephone portals TellMe and BeVocal.
This is a comment from me. Doesn't it kill you to see this PR fail to mention GMGC and then even to mention these new companies, and then to say it's a watered down version? GMGC is again out there raising public awareness.
Users set up a profile through an OnStar site on the Internet, specifying the types of news, stock quotes and weather reports they'd like to hear -- and in what order. OnStar hopes to expand the service with traffic reports, calendar information and address books.
Once connected to Virtual Advisor, the user can also skip to a specific topic with voice commands such as "get stocks" or "get weather."
But only the stock section is truly interactive, allowing users to request quotes for companies that aren't already plugged into their profiles on the Web site. The voice recognition was fairly accurate on a test drive, though sometimes it took a couple of tries to get the right company.
The OnStar microphone, in this case located near the sun visor, occasionally picked up background noise from other passengers, interfering with the voice recognition.
For outgoing calls, the driver can store up to 20 numbers under different name tags. If a number is not on that list, it can be "dialed" verbally. Digit by digit, the number is read back to the driver as confirmation, a painstaking process.
Despite the resulting limitations, OnStar has withstood the temptation to provide a screen for viewing Web content or a backup handset to provide privacy or better sound quality during phone calls.
Instead, OnStar has devised a truly handsfree and headset-free service at a time when the soaring popularity of handheld devices is provoking state and local governments to crack down on wireless road warriors.