Low-cost smartphone navi app for Chevy Sonic, Spark with MyLink

  • 10-Apr-2012 01:00 EDT

With smartphone connected via USB cable, the map display from GoGoLink is transferred to the 7.0-in MyLink touchscreen. Shown is a beta version from the Korean source.

Navigation systems that operate off smartphones have taken over the lower-cost end of the automotive market. The Chevrolet Sonic and Korea-sourced Spark (due to reach the U.S. market later this year) are aimed at a demographic group that has a 90% smartphone ownership rate.

That made for an easy decision by General Motors Co. to offer its new GoGoLink app on these models, and it featured the new app at the 2012 New York International Auto Show. Not only is GoGoLink at the bargain end of the price spectrum at $50, but it overcomes the single most important objection to this type of system. It doesn’t wipe out a smartphone data plan in a single long trip by feeding turn-by-turn directions from a continuous data connection to the cloud, potentially subjecting the subscriber to massive overcharges.

The navigation system works with MyLink and its 7.0-in touchscreen on the car, a feature previously introduced on other General Motors cars, and which links to the smartphone via a USB connection or Bluetooth. MyLink is basically General Motors’ competitor for Sync, and it uses Micorsoft's Windows 7 operating system.

The GoGoLink is an app for the Apple iPhone or Google Android, and once activated, its navigation system will load all the maps into the phone memory, taking a moderate 1.8 GB. GoGoLink is a one-time buy that even may be transferred to a next-generation phone of the same platform. The GoGoLink maps remain stored on the phone, and updates are free, each coming in as a link from the app market icon (such as Google’s Play Store) when the phone is turned on. Once the maps are loaded, the basic navigation doesn’t require a data connection, except for data updates. Distance to turns is determined with the input from the phone’s GPS.

As explained by Sara LeBlanc, Program Manager, Global Infotainment Systems, General Motors, “If you have a smartphone, a dumb screen really is all you need,” although the MyLink itself isn’t a dummy. However, once the phone is linked to the car, the screen simply shows whatever was on the phone’s display, and any Sonic or Spark above a base model will have the screen.. The connection can be via a USB cable or with Android via Bluetooth. Although the app will be released later, any Sonic or Spark with the MyLink touchscreen also will be capable of being updated for GoGoLink.

MyLink also can bring up anything else that’s stored on the phone, from an address book to music or videos.

Maps are available for the U.S., Europe, Brazil, Korea, China, and Australia. The radio is from LG Electronics, and the app is supplied by EnGIS Technologies, a Korean software company that specializes in GPS-based navigation systems. GoGoLink is custom-designed to work with MyLink and the LG radio in Sonic and Spark.

GM expects the GoGoLink system to give it a competitive advantage in a worldwide market for A- and B-size cars, which it estimates will represent a million annual worldwide sales for the company within three years, LeBlanc said.

Entering a destination is a lot easier than on a smartphone, as the small QWERTY touch-type keypad on the phone is enlarged when displayed on the MyLink screen. If the destination is in the same city, a “single line address” entry form can be used. Voice recognition is limited to whatever function is stored in the smartphone. The app menu includes an ECO option, which when selected will be incorporated to create a route likely to produce the highest fuel economy.

Once the maps are loaded into the smartphone, it’s the same as having a hand-held navigation system like those from Garmin or TomTom, and as such it can be used (unplugged) in any car, LeBlanc noted.

The GoGoLink menu also includes Home/Office and Favorites destination icons, which serve as “speed-dial” type navigational-entry shortcuts. Touch the icon, then make a selection from home/office or one of your favorite destinations, and the navigation system will calculate the route from wherever you are.

Not everything is loaded into smartphone memory, LeBlanc pointed out. If a driver wants to check for points of interest or get a traffic report (such as from Google), the navigation system can use the smartphone’s GPS to determine location. But the data connection to the cloud also has to be established. However, once the information is received, it can be disconnected.

If the driver wants to access such Internet favorites as Pandora and Stitcher from a smartphone, those do require a data connection to the cloud for as long as in use.

If a phone call comes while the navigation system is connected to the MyLink screen, the notice will appear on screen and the call can be answered.

OnStar is standard on GM cars, but it operates separately from GoGoLink.

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