Smart phone applications for motorists
There is an abundance of satnav applications. If you want an official, off-line navigation feature you need to dish out. On the other hand, you can use Google applications free of charge; all you need is a mobile internet plan. Google Maps is preinstalled on all Android phones. Its operation could not be easier. It also offers dynamic traffic monitoring which operates by receiving data from - instead of just sending data to – all users. The application sends the location and the speed of the specific device to Google where these raw data are converted into colour codes and are overlaid on the map. This gives you an idea of how fast traffic is moving at any given time and place. If you want to park your car and ride a bus, Google can tell you which line to take, when the next bus is due, and which stop you have to get off at. If you do not have access to mobile internet, connect to your home Wi-Fi network to download the map of the area you are planning to visit. This requires a bit of foresight but it can turn your disconnected phone into an offline navigation device.
Waze calls its servicescommunity navigation and that sounds just about right. This mapping service uses the same foundations as Google Maps but Waze has its own database of maps. Google liked the idea so much that they acquired Waze last July and are now developing these services together. The main advantage of Waze is that changes in the map structure are updated within no more than three days, as users are eager to report these, from road blocks to repair works, from accidents to speed cameras. Once you run the application you can see all signed-in Waze users on the road, each assigned a unique avatar which makes the whole application rather cute. Click on any user to send them a message. Ingenious!
Platform: Android, iOS, Windows Mobile, Symbian, Blackberry
Car Home Ultra
This application reconfigures the home screen of your phone. It gives you access to some of the most important functions through oversize buttons. It also displays data such as speed, ambient temperature and location. Legibility is excellent. This is a useful feature while you are on the road because it eliminates the need to browse through various menus, as all data and functions are available from a single screen. The application comes with a 30-day trial period; you pay $3.99 if you want to use it after that.
Platform: Android, iOS, Windows Mobile
Price: free for 30-day trial; $3.99
You no longer need to cut up your dashboard if you want to install an aftermarket head-up display: you can just download a simple app that calculates your speed using GPS data and projects the information on the inside of your windscreen. It works superbly at night time; all you need to do is position your phone on the dashboard. It is advisable to use some sort of anti-slip mat to avoid your phone from sliding around. If you are no longer content to see your speed and the time but would like to also display directions or change the colours of the feature you need to fork out $3.07. Auto HUD is a free app that offers colour changes but not much more: it can reliably display your speed and that's all. Another free application is HUD DM which is so simple it does not even have a menu: run the app and you will see a mirror image of an Opel Kadett instrument cluster displaying your speed from the built-in GPS. If you have iPhone, you may want to opt for Awesome HUD. If head-up display proves to be your thing and you would like to use it regularly, invest in a patch of 5% tint foil. Stick it at the right spot on your windscreen and you will be able to enjoy your HUD in the daytime. This solution also eliminates the ghost image caused by the laminated windscreen structure.
Platform: Android, iOS, Windows Mobile
Price: basic features are free, $3.07 for full access to all features
This is a simple program that allows users to locate their car in a parking lot. It requires GPS signal to work so you cannot use it in underground parking facilities but will give you all the clues you need in regular parking lots. As a bonus it also times your parking session.
Price: run it free up to ten times then pay $3.99 to activate the full version
Autóvadász (Car Hunter)
Absolutely do devote 488 kb of memory to the application created by the Hungarian ‘International Car Hunter Public Service Association'. You can run searches on license plate numbers, and the app will check the updateable database to see if the specific car has been stolen. If you see a suspicious car in traffic or an abandoned vehicle on the side of the road, run the search on the plate number. Who knows, you could become the hero who returns a stolen vehicle to its rightful owner.
Platform: Android, iOS
Price: free, but happy to receive donations
Have you had too much to drink last night and are now wondering whether it's okay to drive in the morning? You need the Alcodroid. This app lets you log your drinks and it will calculate your blood alcohol content. It can also keep a record of your daily, weekly, and monthly consumption of adult beverages, giving you an overview of your pub performance.
A locally developed application protecting your wallet, Traffi Hunter uses a regularly updated database to pinpoint the location of speed cameras or radars on the Hungarian road network. Upon launching the app you get immediate notification if there is speed control in progress in your vicinity. The application acquires data from the speed trap database, from the website police.hu, as well as from user reports.
Platform: Android, iOS
Developed in Israel, iOnRoad enables you to keep your safe distance in traffic as well as to stay within your lane. Using information from the camera and GPS module of your phone it can locate your car. Of course to facilitate this you need to put your phone in a holder attached to the windscreen, and to make sure it has unobstructed view of the street ahead. Upon launching the app you need to calibrate the position of the phone by aligning virtual water levels on the screen. You get audio and visual warning when your vehicle is tailgating others or is bound to leave the lane. For the price of $5.77 you should not expect the quality of service familiar from high end vehicles. I tested this both at night and in the rain, and reliability was far worse than in daylight. The app dislikes worn lane markings, but if the sun is out and the lane markings are all fresh and white this is a great tool to help you avoid some collisions. There are two control buttons on the screen, allowing you to record a video or take a still shot if you see something interesting. Once you arrive at your destination the software offers you the option of saving your position, thereby making it easier to find your car later on.
Platform: Android, iOS
Torque Lite and Pro
A must-have application for people who want to know more about their car than what is displayed on the IC, for track day enthusiasts and for people who can actually decipher error codes. In order to use Torque you will need an OBD2 connector, available in Chinese web stores for around $10 including shipping, which can send diagnostic data to your smart phone (opening the package I was pleasantly surprised to find a CD-ROM enclosed with loads of computer software.) You can configure the types of information you would like to display on your screen. If you opt for the Pro version you can also record these data (and, using GPS signals, you can match the data with a map to see what happened where) or assign alerts to various configurable thresholds. In fact this software allows you to build a cheap and fully configurable instrument cluster for your track day race car – all you need is an inexpensive tablet.
What is OBD?
OnBoard Diagnostics was introduced (and required) around the late 1980's. The primary reason for launching these systems was to enable the checking of various sensors controlling harmful emissions from a vehicle. When preset limits are exceeded there‘s an amber light that goes off, telling you to have a mechanic take a look at your car. Back then you needed a computer and specialised software to analyse the data.
By the mid 1990's it was time for OBD2. As CAN BUS networks became the norm, diagnostic tools were assigned more and more tasks. While the actual plug is very similar in all vehicles, there are five different protocols available for carmakers. The basic use for OBD2 is to monitor the conditions determining harmful emissions but manufacturers are free to use the system for their individual needs. There are nine modes in which you can query your car's computer
1 Read-out of current diagnostic data, current values:
temperature, rpm, boost, fuel feed etc.
2 Screenshot data:
read-out of sensory values pertaining to the error code generated by the system
3 Read-out of stored error codes
4 Deletion of stored error codes
5 Operative parameters of oxygen sensors
6 Monitoring manufacturer-specified data (not continuous)
7 Monitoring manufacturer-specified data (continuous)
8 Accessing manufacturer-specified external systems
An example for this is the programming of comfort features such as switching speed sensitive door locks on or off, timing ambient lighting, etc.
9 Vehicle data:
Includes data like VIN and various calibration data
Manufacturers are happy to exchange information for cash. Cheap, universal diagnostic tools cannot access all data and all programming options. If you want to access hidden data fields it would do you good to visit various internet forums. The location of the connector itself is also regulated – it has to be within one metre from the steering wheel. Dig into your user manual and you'll find your plug.
Price: Lite: free, Pro: $4.92
That's a weird name that stands for ‘drive smoothly'. This is a nifty little app; users claim an average of 15% improvement in fuel consumption when using the software. It basically displays data from the phone's accelerometer in an easy-to-understand format. There's a dial with the hand showing excessive accelerations or decelerations. At the end of your journey you can check where you wasted energy, and how much.
If you have an IPhone go for ‘Glass of water' developed by Toyota to help you drive more efficiently. You need to keep a virtual glass of water from spilling. If you manage to do that your mileage is guaranteed to increase by 10 per cent.
Platform: Android, iOS (Glass of water)
There are loads of car management apps available for smart phones, mostly in English language. Because these programs are rather simple (after all it's nothing but plain data base management), it's their consumer friendly nature that differentiates among them. For instance, the best Hungarian product can differentiate between costs arising from private or corporate car use.
AndiCarPro offers the following features:
- Setting reminders (validity of travel documents, maintenance deadlines, insurance renewal dates, etc.)
- Keeping record of fuel station visits
- Keeping record of workshop visits
- Keeping record of miscellaneous expenses (parking, car wash, insurance, taxes, road tax, etc.)
- Driving log
- Preparation of reports
- Importing / exporting data
- GPS tracking
Other English language applications include aCar or MyCars which offer a prettier user interface, albeit at a price of up to $5.90.