There have been a lot of important apps released for iOS (and Mac) this year. As you can imagine, we’ve covered many of the big ones. But for me, nothing has been a bigger game changer than Tesla’s Model S App. I’m sure many folks will pooh-pooh the idea that an app that is for 30,000 or so households should even get mainstream coverage. But bear with me here. The company has revolutionized the ways in which cars interact with smartphones and these advancements will trickle into more car/apps over the coming years..
For those out of the loop, the Tesla Model S is a fully electric car that can seat up to 7 people, propel them from 0-60 in about 4 seconds and has a battery range of about 250-300 miles fully decked out. It has the lowest coefficient of drag of any mass produced car, has gained the best safety rating ever from the NHTSA and has more interior storage space than many minivans and SUVs.
Many have compared its disruptive nature and its charismatic CEO Elon Musk to Apple and Steve Jobs.
I plunked down for mine at the end of last year which is also eligible for $7500 US Federal Tax credit. Since then, the base model price and configurations have changed, but at the time it seemed like a good price on a great car. TL;DR ->It was.
What’s somewhat unique about the Tesla from an app standpoint is that the car itself has a persistent internet connection – through AT&T in the US, and other carriers abroad. That means a lot of things (like built in internet radio, OTA software updates, remote diagnostics, etc) but it is especially important to the Tesla iPhone app.
Other car companies have their own persistent internet connection but they are barely utilized for anything helpful unless you find yourself in a ditch and forget how to use a cell phone. GM’s OnStar, BMW’s Assist, Lexus Link or others all are almost solely used for emergencies. Tesla allows you to connect to your car through the app so long as the car is within mobile coverage or near a wifi hotspot. That does use significant mobile data but Tesla has subsidized the cost of data somewhat like what Amazon does with their Kindle Fire LTEs.
Tesla’s app allows you to control your car in 4 major ways over the internet:
- View and control the charge/door
- Geo-track it in real time with speed and direction
- Remotely control locks, sunroof, horn and lights
- Adjust the interior temperature
What’s important here is that you can do this from almost anywhere. You can check the charge of the batteries of your car from another continent for instance – but that’s abstract (not that I haven’t). On my train ride home from the city on a cold day, I can start the heat in my car from 20 miles away. What’s even better is that at a mall 100 miles from your house, you can remotely find the general area where you parked your car on the map then flash your lights or beep your horn until you find your car – which of course you’ve heated up as you were waiting in line to buy your Christmas presents.
As an electric car owner, knowing how much charge I have can be important when that batteries get low. If the Model S is charging while we’re at dinner or out shopping, I can keep an eye on how much charge I’m getting and when I can leave. On long trips at Supercharger stations, this is even more important.
The app gets the most use however when my wife takes the car out for work or with the kids. Instead of calling her and having her fumble for her phone while driving, I just open the app and I know where they are in seconds. I can see how fast they are going, if there is traffic and what their ETA is so that I can time dinner plans or know if I have time to grab a coffee.
At first, the idea of following the car seemed very stalker-ish, and there will certainly be people who don’t like to know that their car can be tracked by an app LoJack-style, but if you are in a normal, trusting relationship, it isn’t a big deal
Obviously, there is a security component here, so you need to login to the app with your Tesla registered email and password. You can use multiple devices including tablets and Android devices (there is even a Google Glass App).
The app isn’t perfect obviously. It could use an iOS 7 UI update, it sometimes takes up to a minute for the car to respond to commands and there are a lot more features it could add. Overall however, it feels very “Louis CK” to complain about something so revolutionary.
Update: Here’s a better video demo on YouTube:
As for home automation, I use a Nest Thermostat and can control the heat of my house from anywhere. I use a Philips Hue light bulb with which I can control the lighting color and brightness in my house, and a Dropcam for checking in on my kids when I’m away. Imagine all of these apps in your car and you can begin to imagine what Tesla has built. Tesla’s disruption doesn’t end at the car; it extends into your smartphone.
And even better yet, I’ve heard they have a lot more features in store for both the app and the car.
If you are into the Electric Car/Tesla scene, please check out Electrek.co, a new blog on all electric transportation.