Google partnership has GM OnStar exploring Maps, open APIs and more

In a move that could shape the mobile landscape -- or simply suck down cash, of course -- General Motors just revealed that Google was its mysterious infotainment partner. In the final hours before Google I/O, we sat down with GM VP Nick Pudar to tell us what the future thus holds for OnStar. As we saw in January, GM's already developing smartphone apps for the Chevy Volt on iPhone, Blackberry and Android that will let you remotely lock doors, honk the horn, check tire pressure and more.... But sometime after the Volt launches, Google Maps Navigation will be integrated into the smartphone app, and we got a hands-on tour. Check out the new interface and hear about GM's strategy after the break.

Functionally, it seemed like the same Google Maps we've enjoyed for months, but GM's version of Navigation keeps track of two dynamic locations instead of one: your phone, and your car. With a single button press the app contacts the Volt's internal GPS, letting you know exactly where you parked, and with another press, it can provide turn-by-turn voice directions from your current position to take you back there. What's more, you can search for addresses and locations on your handset, then relay them to OnStar (again, with a single touch) so that they're queued up and waiting for you in the vehicle's dedicated GPS once you arrive. All of this was accomplished within a "navigation" tab in the OnStar app, leaving us wondering if we'd have to use it instead of Google's own when communicating with our auto, but we imagine the companies will figure that out.

Aside from Google Maps, Pudar couldn't tell us about other specific functionality the partnership would enable, but he did shed some light on what both firms see as their goal. Google will be able to tap into a vehicular market 6,000,000 vehicles strong in order to bolster its real-time traffic data, provide location-aware services and "close the loop" between search and purchase; and as we've heard before, GM's goal is to extend OnStar beyond cars. Pressed for clarification, the exec told us that GM was looking into personal OnStar systems for the elderly and infirm (the "I've fallen and I can't get up" crowd) and smartphone-controlled home security systems as well. So far, the partnership's fruits are limited to Android; GM wouldn't confirm whether they'd appear on iPhone or Blackberry, or whether Symbian and Windows Mobile would get OnStar apps period.

With Google firmly entrenched in the ad space, one might imagine OnStar moving away from $200 yearly subscriptions, and GM had clearly given the idea a lot of thought. But while Pudar suggested that ads and subscription might coexist, he explained that most impression opportunities they'd considered would interfere with driving safety or the usability of the system -- just like this, we're sure -- and these smartphone apps were peripheral to the company's primary cause. Don't get your hopes up for cheaper tiered pricing for the same reason; when we asked if we might forgo the emergency functions of OnStar and just get remote smartphone monitoring for a smaller fee, GM told us quite strongly that the new functionality was afforded by OnStar's emergency services backbone, and if customers didn't want the package at the subscription price offered, they were free to go someplace else.

Judging by what's already been shown, we expect some fantastic apps from the GM and Google partnership. However, the most exciting thing Pudar told us is that you might even be able to roll your own. Should the company satisfy certain safety concerns, the exec said GM will open up the OnStar API for development. We have our healthy doubts, of course, but it's hard not to be excited by the possibility of an vehicle-specific App Store.