2011 Smart electric drive - first drive

2011 Smart electric drive - first drive

Forget the pricey color screen and COMAND interface of Smart's upmarket cousin, Mercedes-Benz. For the upcoming 2011 Smart Electric Drive, which we drove at The Car Connection last week, the brand has rolled out a new app that essentially turns your iPhone into that.

While anyone can download the app from iTunes ($9.99) and install it on their iPhone, the app was designed for a special Smart Drive kit, which includes a cradle and special sound-system head unit.

Opens up more entertainment possibilities, too

The application plays several roles. It displays maps, like the mapping features on navigation-system screens. Another feature unique to the app is that it provides access to hundreds of Internet radio stations and shows as well as to what's on the iPhone. Through the touch-screen interface, users can access audio functions by tapping on a musical-note icon, where they can easily play what's on the device through the sound system, change tracks, or receive calls via audio speakers. Artist and song title info shows whether playing music from the iPod function or Internet radio.

Chris Carde, senior systems manager at Mercedes-Benz Research and Development, based in California, says that because the application, which was more than a year in the making, was developed in-house at Mercedes-Benz, and directly involved Daimler engineers in Germany, it stands up to higher vehicle security and reliability considerations than any other mobile app.

According to Carde, the interface went through some rigorous safety checks and uses a font much larger than what's used in other mobile applications so it would pass muster with Daimler's standards.

The app was developed primarily for deployment in the U.S., as well as Germany, Italy, France, and the U.K.—all markets where the initial lot of 1,500 Smart Electric Drive cars will be leased, and markets where the iPhone was a relatively common smartphone. The app has already been released for those markets and will be out in Switzerland within a few weeks.

A lot more than an EV charging app

Even if you drive a Smart Fortwo, rather than the electric version, you'll soon be able to take advantage of kit and app for mapping, Internet radio, the car locator, and other features.

There's already a set of charging-station locations shown in the application's map system, but as Smart gathers more information about charging stations available through energy companies, municipalities, and other initiatives, it's finding that there are often caveats regarding access to the stations.

Smart Drive app, for iPhone and 2011 Smart Electric Drive

Smart Drive app, for iPhone and 2011 Smart Electric Drive

In the short term, the company hopes to add a real-time charging feature that would seek out the closest station that's currently accessible. To start, a full navigation system will be available later this year, as part of an upgrade.

Data from the application's use, as well as the user's charging habits, will be gathered by Daimler as part of the project, but drivers will be able to opt out for privacy with no sacrifice in functionality.