Apple iPhone's Siri (Courtesy: Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - Tech-savvy drivers who miss conversing with "Siri," the chatty electronic assistant built into newer Apple iPhones, are about to get a big assist from General Motors.
GM says today that it has found a way to link Siri to the new infotainment systems in its two smallest cars, Chevrolet Spark and Sonic. Drivers will be able to continue their chats with voice-activated Siri behind the wheel in order to perform the same tasks that they usually do on their smartphone, from checking sports scores to phoning friends. Only now, they will be able perform those functions while keeping their eyes on the road at all times.
The new feature underscores how automakers are struggling to incorporate the latest developments in smartphones into their cars -- and run the risk of having cars that feel outdated in a few years as technology marches on.
Not be overshadowed, Ford Motor announced improved voice recognition and the ability to more easily pair to new smartphones in the infotainment system that will be installed in its smallest and cheapest model, the 2014 version of the Fiesta.
Both automakers' announcements were made as a prelude to the press preview of the big auto show in Los Angeles, a metropolis that has some of the highest concentrations of small-car sales in the nation. Both are bringing some of their latest technology to their smallest and cheapest cars in a bid to lure more Millennial buyers, the twentysomethings who can't get enough of all things digital.
Both GM and Ford are striving to make smartphones easier to use in the car while reducing driver distraction. GM, for instance, will let Apple iPhone users activate Siri's reassuring voice with steering-wheel buttons. It's referring to the intelligent assistant's extension to the car's MyLink infotainment system as "Siri in Eyes Free" mode.
"'Siri in Eyes Free mode' will be available in the Spark and Sonic well before the luxury brands," says Cristi Landy, Chevrolet's marketing director for small cars, in a statement. "Safe, easy, reliable and portable connectivity is a top priority for our customers, and Siri complements MyLink's existing capabilities."
Siri is found on Apple 4S and 5 iPhones. But even those still stuck in the dial-phone age are likely to know the Siri function from a blizzard of Apple print and TV ads. On TV commercials, the Siri function is demonstrated in by hip actors like Zooey Deschanel and Samuel L. Jackson who ask it to play particular songs or help with a recipe.
To make the most of its improved voice recognition in its MyFord Touch system in the Fiesta, Ford is enlarging the car's center console screen to 6.5 inches, up from 4 inches.
Drivers won't have to say as many words to perform simple functions by voice command in the Fiesta, Ford says. Instead of having to say the stilted "play genre jazz," drivers will be able to simply say "play jazz" when trying to get the desired tunes out of their car stereos.
The new system will "really help Fiesta stand out from the crowd," says Michelle Moody, Ford cross-vehicle marketing manager, in a statement.