For years, convergence has been the watchword in the mobile world. Where once users would carry a device for phone calls, another for data recording (like the old Palm Pilots), a digital camera, an MP3 music player, and so on, today’s devices do it all — and then some. But Israel’s Accel Telecom is betting that, at least when it comes to phone usage in autos, the trend is towards one of divergence — and is set to market a phone specifically for use in motor vehicles.
It’s not that the phone does anything radically different than other smartphones, says Accel — but it’s the way that it does it, enabling drivers to use their smartphones while on the road much more safely than with regular smartphones. The phone will be on display at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week.
The Accel Telecom Voyager is, the company says, the first standalone connected car smartphone device that can be installed in any car. The idea is for the Voyager to act as an extension of your do-it-all smartphone, but restricting its use to the functions you need when driving, and providing them in a manner that’s safe to access.
The phone’s features and interface were designed especially for drivers, with big, easy to access keys, special noise filtration and noise cancellation to allow clearer conversations, voice activation for calls and commands, enhanced volume to ensure that drivers can easily hear conversations, and a built-in copy of Waze, the crowdsourced traffic and navigation app (also made in Israel). All features are accessible via big buttons and swipe screens, so you can easily play music or change Internet radio stations without taking your eyes off the road.
The Voyager doesn’t require you to get a separate phone number for the device; the instrument was meant for use with a “twin SIM,” a copy of an existing SIM card that is activated when driving.
The Voyager provides other goodies, as well. It connects to a vehicle’s power port (where the cigarette lighter used to be) and car battery, so there’s no need to manually recharge it. In cars that support it (most models from the past two years or so), Voyager can check a car’s diagnostics via its onboard computer, checking fluid levels, brake condition, etc. And the phone, assuming the installed SIM card has a data plan, provides a Wi-Fi hot spot for other passengers, so passengers in the back can check their Facebook pages and Twitter feeds on their own devices, without requiring their own data plans.
The truth is, there is almost nothing the device does that users can’t already do with many smartphones (like iPhones) that are tweaked and equipped with the right software. But like so many other great ideas, Voyager isn’t revolutionary, but evolutionary — the evolution part being that the device exempts drivers from doing all the setting up, and giving them one fewer thing to worry about, allowing for safer driving. Drivers who use Waze, attaching their devices to the windshield using a phone holder held in place with a suction cup and connecting their devices to the power port and sound system with a variety of wires and cables, will appreciate the simplicity of Voyager’s true plug-and-play connectivity.
It’s just a safer way to drive, said Accel CEO Marc Seelenfreund — with Voyager enabling drivers to keep their eyes on the road, and not on their devices, as is so often the case today. “Our user-friendly, cost-effective and secure Carfone devices have seen substantial market success,” said Seelenfreund. “We expect strong demand for the new generation Voyager Connected Car Smartphone device in both European and US markets in line with recent industry reports and our own research with industry influencers.”