At the Consumer Electronics Show in January, Amazon’s Alexa was the unexpected star. The virtual assistant showed up in everything from refrigerators to baby monitors, perhaps making its biggest splash inside cars. Both Ford and Volkswagen announced plans to bring Alexa into their new vehicles. Today, Logitech is making a similar announcement, offering the ability to bring Alexa into literally any car, even that rusted-out truck you’ve been driving since the late ’70s—all you need is a smartphone.
The trick to how the technology works is Logitech’s ZeroTouch system. Hardware-wise, it’s just a car mount for your phone. The device comes in two forms, a dashboard mount, and an air-conditioner mount. When used in conjunction with the free ZeroTouch app, you’re able to control your phone, and many of its functions hands-free while you drive using your voice and gestures. For instance, you can wave your hand in front of your phone and ask it to call a friend or pull up directions to a local restaurant. Everything is done using voice commands, with no need for you to ever look at your phone’s display.
ZeroTouch’s Alexa integration, which officially starts rolling out today, adds all of Alexa’s functionality into the mix as well. That means you can ask her to do things like play your favorite audio book, stream tunes from Amazon music, or yes, even order paper towels. Anything you can do with Amazon’s Echo or Dot products can also be done with the ZeroTouch while you’re behind the wheel. The only requirement: an Amazon account.
I’ve been using the ZeroTouch since its launch in May of last year. To use the mount, you attach a small piece of metal to the back of your smartphone or smartphone case. When you get in the car, that metal connects to the magnet in the dock to mount your phone. Once it detects it’s attached to the mount, the ZeroTouch app also automatically launches–so there’s also not a ton of fumbling around to figure out where the app is and launch it, it just works. When you remove your phone from the dock, the app also closes on its own.
Living in San Francisco, I don’t actually own a car, but rather use a mixture of traditional rental cars, friend’s cars, and things like Zipcar and Maven. The air-conditioning vent mount has been perfect for those situations. It’s small enough that I can keep it in my purse, so it’s always with me, and it gives me a portable mount so I can keep Maps at eye level when I drive (a must-have for a directionally challenged person like myself).
Using ZeroTouch is great for reading and responding to texts on the road or getting restaurant recommendations (it has Yelp and Foursquare integration). But do you really need Alexa in your car? Maybe. I’ve been using a beta version of the Alexa integration along with ZeroTouch for a few weeks now. As for how, most commonly that has come in the form of asking Alexa things like what’s on my calendar for the rest of the day, or what the weather forecast for the remainder of the afternoon is. She can offer a rundown of the day’s headlines, entertain me with tales of what happened this day in history, or tell an (often corny) joke. When I got caught up in a new book one morning, I was also able to have her keep reading for me right where I left off when I got in the car.
For me, the most useful feature of the device’s Alexa integration is the to-do list. Inevitably, when I’m driving is when I remember a number of things I need to do. Whether it’s remembering to contact my accountant about this year’s taxes or something simple like picking up some beer before friends come over to watch the game—I remember when I’m behind the wheel, but immediately forget everything when I get home. With Alexa, I can build an epic to-do list populated with items not only added while I’m driving, but also while I’m at home chatting with my Echo Dot. That means I end up forgetting a lot less.
If you pair Alexa with smart devices in your home, you can also do things like ask Alexa to turn on the heat while you’re on your way home from the office, or turn on your porch light as you pull into your driveway (or off when you realize you forgot to hit the switch on your way out). Do you need to do that? No, but Alexa is managing to tie together smart homes in a way that other manufacturers haven’t quite managed to do just yet. It just works.
It also works outside of your car. You need the mount; however, heavy Alexa users could bring the dock into a hotel room our office, and take advantage of Alexa just as if they had brought their Dot or Echo along for the ride. With an air-vent dock a little over the size of a quarter, that makes Alexa a whole lot more portable.
Logitech’s Alexa integration is also just the beginning of what we’re likely to see this year from the smart assistant. If the first few weeks of 2017 is any indication, while the smart assistant is coming to cars today, it’s about to be everywhere.