AVOIDING in-dash navigation options that can cost $800 to $1,500, smartphone owners are increasingly opting for $50 apps and free maps on their handsets to help them get around.
But navigating in a car with a cellphone can be awkward -- and dangerous. To avoid looking down at a handset's small screen, an awkward cradle is needed to mount a phone on the dashboard. Also, instructions from tiny cellphone speakers are often drowned out by road noise or music in the car.
A better, safer solution would be to feed a phone's maps and instructions through the car's larger, built-in display and sound system. Now, two automakers are allowing this to happen.
Ford has teamed up with the navigation company Telenav to enable Telenav's Scout software to run on compatible vehicles outfitted with Ford's Sync system and software called Applink. A $25-a-year app, Car Connect, lets drivers connect Android phones to the dash. (An iPhone version is in the works.)
They can have maps displayed on the car's screen, use hands-free voice commands and hear directions through the car's sound system. Also included are traffic information, red-light camera warnings and speed trap alerts, features rarely found on in-dash systems.
Chevrolet's new compact, the 2013 Spark, is the company's first vehicle to offer a similar feature. Rather than storing expensive, obsolete maps and navigation in the dash, Spark's MyLink program relies on a $50 app that owners download to an iPhone or Android handset. Called BringGo, the app worked well in a test drive through New York City traffic, ably providing directions through various boroughs and rerouting automatically when the driver insisted on making a wrong turn.
Telenav, which also supplies the maps for Ford's $800 built-in navigation option, contends there will continue to be a market for an all-in-one, in-dash solution. But as the app generation grows and more drivers become comfortable connecting their phones to their cars, automakers may be forced to hand over the navigation reins to smartphones.
JOHN R. QUAIN
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.