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Will OnStar Replace the iPhone?

GM is changing the way that people use OnStar, effectively turning cars into “rolling search engines” according to Search Engine Land.

OnStar has long been a specialty service that provides directions and a few other goodies to those willing to pay. But GM’s new line of OnStar services will include 4G LTE options, meaning wi-fi connectivity on the go.


That connectivity is getting funneled into a few specific features. Some of them, like maintenance alerts, are pretty car-focused and unexciting. But the new “AtYourService” feature offers a Google/Yelp-like experience, hands free, from your dashboard.

How It Works

AtYourService is, at its most basic level, an expanded in-car concierge service; it’s OnStar “plus.” The focus is on searching for nearby businesses and getting directions. But that’s where AtYourService gets very, very clever.

Instead of just providing directions, AYS will also pull up deals and special promotions from relevant businesses. The ads will be tailored to what you’re looking for, adding value to the user, and only come from OnStar’s partners, adding value to advertisers. In other words it’s bringing the power of local search ads into the cockpit.

AYS will also offer a variety of other features, from hands-free hotel bookings to instant downloads of audio book content.

Why Does This Exist?

The funny thing about AtYourService is that there’s no real reason to have it. Everything that OnStar offers, from hands-free directions to special deals to instant downloads, is already offered through that mobile device that all of us carry—the one that will likely be sitting on the dashboard charging while we’re driving. It doesn’t make sense for users to pay an extra fee to get a second device that does the same thing.


Existing mobile devices could even handle “car things” like getting maintenance alerts. All it would take is a GM app that pushes the information from your car’s computer to your mobile. So why does AtYourService exist?

The reason has to do with smart marketing on GM’s part. While almost everyone has a mobile device, many people don’t have all the different apps (travel apps, maps, Yelp) that would duplicate the functionality. Even more people don’t regularly use their phones hands-free. Assuming that the interface is easy to use, AYS will provide the simple, plug-and-play alternative. And it makes GM stand out: instead of turning all these features into more corporate app to get lost in the App Store, they’re building them into your dashboard.

But the real reason comes down to ad revenue. GM knows that search ads are an easy way to make money and they want in. Instead of relaying requests to an outside service like Google (and losing out on ad revenue) they’re opting to become Google, at least for searches on the road. They’ll surely be tracking user data to improve ad results too.

Of course, that depends on getting people to use AtYourService in the first place. Will all the features be enough to get people hooked?  If GM’s aren’t, someone’s will be—other car makers are already announcing their own.