Connected Car Technology for Mobile ProfessionalsA vehicle and a smartphone are must-have tools for today’s mobile small business professional, and using both to their fullest potential can really help maximize your productivity on the road. To that end we present some of our favorite connected car technology—some of it hardware, some of it software, and some of it combines both.
The following connected car products and services can handle tasks such as automatically log your trips, monitor the quality of your driving, diagnose engine trouble, turn your smartphone into an extra key fob, and calculate business-related miles driven for tax/expense reporting. Herein you also find some mounts and apps that help you use your smartphone more easily and safely while behind the wheel.
Automatic Car AdapterThe $90 Automatic Car Adapter dongle plugs into your vehicle's onboard diagnostic (OBD-II) port—most cars built since 1996 have them. This connected car technology provides real-time driving feedback, track your trips, and let you tag your business-related excursions to help with your tax reporting and mileage expensing. It can even help you find your way back to your parked car.
The Automatic Car Adapter will also diagnose "check engine" lights and even call emergency services and specified personal contacts if it detects you’ve been in a serious crash. Best of all, unlike many of the products and services listed here, you don’t pay an ongoing subscription fee.
Zubie + In-Car Wi-FiLike the Automatic Car Adapter, the Zubie + In-Car Wi-Fi ($100 plus $10 a month for service) is another connected car dongle that plugs into an OBD-II port. It tracks trips taken, driving statistics (hard braking, hard acceleration, idle time, speeding), vehicle health and scheduled maintenance intervals, and it lets you arrange for roadside assistance from an app.
It also provides in-vehicle Wi-Fi for up to 10 devices via a dedicated 4G LTE connection (Verizon only) that works for 15 minutes after the car's been turned off.
Delphi Connect and Delphi Connect with 4G LTE Mobile HotspotLike many other OBD-II devices that turn your vehicle into a connected car, Verizon’s Delphi Connect ($100 + $5 per month for service) logs your trips, monitors vehicle location and driving behavior and it deciphers engine diagnostic codes. But the Delphi Connect's unique feature is its capability to replicate the functions of your key fob from your smartphone. With it you can (on certain vehicles) remotely lock, unlock, or start the car.
The Delphi Connect with 4G LTE Mobile Hotspot ($200) provides the same capabilities but adds in-car Wi-Fi for up to five devices.
BreezeworksWe liked the Breezeworks app for service businesses when we reviewed it last year, not least because of its smart scheduling capabilities. It doesn’t just map the route to your next appointment, it calculates travel time based on traffic conditions and reminds you when you have to leave to arrive on schedule. It can also let your customer know when you’re in route, and automatically update your customer in the event that you’re delayed or need to reschedule the appointment.
MileIQIf you need to track your trips for purposes of mileage deduction or reimbursement on an expense report, the MileIQ app ($6 per month or $60 annually) can save you a ton of work. MileIQ (available for iOS and Android) automatically logs your trips, lets you easily classify them with a swipe, and generates detailed reports on all your business-related travel.
Since the app runs solely on your phone (i.e. it doesn’t rely on hardware in your car), it logs trips regardless of what vehicle you’re driving. MileIQ also offers free version of the app if you need to track only 40 or fewer trips per month.
ICarMode and DashDroidThe tiny buttons and other UI elements typical of a smartphone aren’t conducive to use while driving. ICarMode ($2) provides a simplified yet customizable big-button interface that lets you access calls, contacts, and other frequently-used apps and functions with minimal distraction. It also includes some other handy features such as a parking meter timer.
DashDroid (free) is a similar app for Android devices, but it includes additional tricks such as the capability to start automatically when you reach a given speed, as well as to block or autoreply to calls and texts while you’re in motion.
Belkin Car Cup Mount for SmartphonesMounting a smartphone in a car can often be a pain— adhesives for dashboard mounts can be tenuous (especially in hot weather), vent mounts don’t always support the weight of heavier phones (and they block airflow), and windshield mounts sometimes put the phone out of easy reach.
A better option, if you’re willing to spare a cup holder, is the Belkin Car Cup Mount for Smartphones ($40), which mounts very securely and lets you access your device from any angle in either landscape or portrait orientation.
Logitech ZeroTouchThe Logitech ZeroTouch is a smartphone vehicle mount with some smarts of its own. Although it uses conventional air vent ($60) or dashboard ($80) methods to physically attach to your car, the vehicle mount pairs to your phone via Bluetooth. The included app (Android-only, for the moment) automatically triggers when your phone makes contact with the mount, which lets you interact with your phone using nothing more than a wave of your hand and the sound of your voice.
Google MapsDon’t fret if your vehicle lacks a built-in GPS system, because with Google Maps and a smartphone (free for iOS, built into Android) you won’t really miss it. Recent updates that added features such as real-time traffic data, road sign animations, and lane guidance put Google Maps on par (or under par) with most standalone GPS systems.
If you need a GPS that works without a live Internet connection, Garmin U.S.A ($50) or Garmin North America ($60)—both iOS only—include all the mapping data you need for offline use. (Google Maps lets you download map data, but only on a per-city basis.)
Joseph Moran is a technology writer and IT consultant specializing in services for consumers and small businesses. He's written extensively for numerous print and online publications, and is the author of File Management Made Simple, Windows Edition from Apress.
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Connected car technology helps mobile small business professionals stay connected and productive. We look at the latest products and services for connected vehicles.