Revamped OnStar Adds Facebook, Text-to-Speech, and an App Store

OnStar texting

Just as was predicted last week, GM today announced a huge expansion of OnStar—and the predictions were pretty much on the money. A quick recap: Though OnStar was one of the first in-car communications systems, it sat fallow as an emergency and safety tool while others, especially Ford Sync (a collaboration with Microsoft) added social networking and media controls.

But GM doesn't want to be left behind, and today the company showed off the new OnStar. This ninth generation of OnStar is, in GM's words, focused on "responsible connectivity," meaning GM has read all those reports showing that communicating (say, by text messaging) can be even more dangerous than drunk driving.

That concern manifests itself in a few ways, some of which maybe aren't so welcome. For example, though OnStar will be able to send text messages via voice control, it'll only allow you to send one of a few choices (including "I'm driving right now."). It will still read back any text messages you receive, but if you want to send something back, you'll have to pull over and do it yourself.

Facebook integration may have a similar limitation, but it's currently in very early testing and the specifics aren't all ready yet. However, GM stated that OnStar will definitely be able to read back Facebook status updates.

All of this connectivity hinges on compatibility with phones (especially smartphones), and GM is still working on that. The app, which will be called MyLink, will hit Android first, followed by iPhone. No word yet on BlackBerry, Windows Mobile/Phone 7, or Symbian, but BlackBerry seems a safe bet. But OnStar supports Bluetooth, so text messages can be read back from pretty much any modern phone. What MyLink offers are advanced tools like key fob functions (unlock, lock, remote start, lights, horn).

OnStar is also kicking off an open API, meaning they'll be accepting applications from developers. It'll be a curated system, similar to that of Apple's App Store: Anyone can submit, but GM retains exclusive rights to approve or deny. That's largely so developers don't sneak in any applications that would endanger drivers.

The new OnStar should be available soon, with some features available on the 2011 model year cars launching in October. The launch will be accompanied by a hefty ad campaign kicking off in September that's said to feature the music of Modest Mouse. Not a bad musical choice—driving-related Modest Mouse song titles include "Convenient Parking," "Long Distance Drunk," "Out of Gas," From Point A to Point B," "Dashboard," and "Baby Blue Sedan." The band's debut album was even called This Is a Long Drive for Someone With Nothing to Think About. Not necessarily the happiest band, but certainly thematically appropriate!

Dan Nosowitz, the author of this post, can be followed on Twitter, corresponded with via email, and stalked in Brooklyn (no link for that one—you'll have to do the legwork yourself).

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