Toyota Entune and Prius V hands-onSee all photos
If you missed our earlier Entune coverage, it's Toyota's answer to something like SYNC AppLink, which has you controlling your smartphone apps through your car. But, the approach here is not the same, and it works a little differently to how it was described at CES, too. With Entune, there will be a single app that you install on your iPhone, BlackBerry, or Android device which, basically, turns the thing into a data pipe for your car. The car's head unit then connects to the phone over Bluetooth and starts sucking down data.
The "apps" that the car provides are then really just icons, rendered locally but driven by data from a remote server that's piped through your phone to the resistive touchscreen. At launch we're looking at Bing searches, which will let you find (by text or by voice) local points of interest, and then get directions straight there. Pandora will be there, as you'd expect, along with iHeartRadio, MovieTickets.com, and OpenTable. It's the same gaggle we saw a few months back, but Toyota's expecting more to play along soon.
We have to say we're a little disappointed with how the apps are integrated with the car. Many have speech recognition, but to trigger that you have to find and hit a tiny microphone button on the touchscreen. There's a "speech" button on the steering wheel, which you use for making hands-free calls, but it isn't integrated with the system. That seems a little unfortunate, everything totally dependent on the touchscreen. But, we're assured that the apps will present simplified, driver-friendly interfaces when you're in the motion to make sure that you don't Bing yourself right into the center divider.
Entune will be available this summer in the roomier Prius V -- which, by the way, actually looks a little fetching up close. Entune is also coming to the Tacoma and Camry before the end of the year, and the rest of the range down the road. There's not expected to be any extra hardware cost for the service, it'll be included with the factory navigation option (which has, by the way, seen a much-needed UI refresh), but Toyota's not saying whether there will be a fee for using the service down the road. All we know is it'll be free for the first three years. All the more reason to live in the moment.
Update: We've modified the text slightly to reflect that the UI is not rendered remotely, but the content is still provided and created remotely.