Once viewed primarily as a safety and security feature, OnStar is repositioning the service as a source of information and entertainment. To build on that goal, the wholly owned subsidiary of General Motors has added new services to OnStar and is beta-testing Facebook and texting capabilities, according to OnStar.
"If implemented, Audio Facebook Updates would allow OnStar subscribers to verbally update their Facebook status message through audio recordings and/or listen to their most recent news feed messages through the OnStar Virtual Advisor service," the company said. "OnStar revealed beta tests for voice-based SMS (short message service). This feature would enable customers to have their text messages read to them using Bluetooth."
Since OnStar was formed in 1995, the company has faced increased competition from Ford, which in 2007 began offering Microsoft Sync. Later this year, Kia says it expects to offer UVO, an in-vehicle communication and entertainment system based on Microsoft's Windows Embedded Automotive platform, on its 2011 Sportage.
"An increasing number of consumers are craving and expecting connected experiences in their vehicles, including being able to quickly and directly access music files, change radio stations, and make or answer phone calls through voice- or touch-activated controls," said Mukund Ghangurde, director of product management for Microsoft's Embedded Automotive business, in a July statement about Kia's latest Sportage.
The newest version of OnStar includes OnStar MyLink, a sub-brand for mobile phone applications, which has been demonstrated on the Chevrolet Volt electric vehicle and new Chevy Cruze compact sedan. Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, and Cadillac mobile apps powered by OnStar will let owners remotely activate functions normally found on a key fob -- such as remote start, horn, lights, and door locks -- from select smartphones, OnStar said.
The service operates on OnStar's new Advanced Telematics Operations Management System (ATOMS), a machine-to-machine system that enables advanced geo-boxing and voice-texting engines, such as Audio Facebook Updates.
In addition, the company Tuesday unveiled the OnStar Developers Challenge, inviting students at select universities to design the next voice-based technology that will keep drivers safe and connected while on the road. Participating engineering, interaction design, and human computer interaction students can submit original voice-enabled applications in OnStar's application programming interface (API) competition.
"These initiatives are all about OnStar's role in keeping drivers and passengers connected and safe," said Chris Preuss, OnStar president. "Building on the rock-solid foundation of OnStar's safety and security platform, we were given a clear directive to develop OnStar as one of the chief pillars in defining General Motors' business going forward. With the extremely high awareness and respect for the OnStar brand, we've created a long-term vision that includes new in-vehicle hardware, an all-new IT infrastructure, and a host of new partnerships and services that provide the basis for growth."
Looking to expand beyond its current base of approximately 6 million subscribers, OnStar on Monday is expected to debut a new ad campaign that focuses on the theme, "Live On -- Safely connecting you in ways you never thought possible."
"The new campaign retains all of the core strengths of safety and security that OnStar is known for, but also adds the idea of 'powerfully simple connectivity,'" said Sam Mancuso, OnStar chief marketing officer. "The creative showcases how we provide our customers connectivity to all the things that matter most to them, like family, friends, social media tools, and our OnStar Advisors."