This story first appeared in Cult of Mac Magazine.
I drive a 10-year-old Nissan Xterra. When I see new vehicles with technology like Ford Sync and Siri Eyes Free, I get jealous of the ability to send texts and answer phone calls without touching my iPhone. The most advanced thing my car can do is play audio from my iPhone through a stereo jack in the radio console.
Combine the lack of cool tech in my whip and my obsession with the latest gadgets and I was immediately intrigued back in March when I heard about Automatic, a hardware/software startup based in San Francisco that’s pitched as a smart driving assistant. Unlike an expensive add-on that has to be installed by a dealer, the Automatic Link is a $100 dongle (Amazon link) that can plug into the car’s data port found somewhere under the steering wheel. It communicates over low-energy Bluetooth to an iPhone app that records your driving, analyzes your mileage, reads your check engine light, helps you find your parked car and more.
The feature that sold me was the ability to see what was causing my engine light to come on—a problem that has ruthlessly followed me with every vehicle I’ve owned so far. I immediately preordered and my Automatic arrived mid-October.
After using Automatic for about a month now, it’s real usefulness is starting to show. There are features about it I love, and it’s shown me how everyday technology, like an iPhone, can enhance the car experience. The Jetsons-like future of transportation isn’t here yet, but Automatic is a precursor of what’s to come. It gets me excited about how our personal computers will interface with cars in 10 years.