iSuppli Test Drives Mercedes-Benz Mbrace System

The new Mercedes-Benz mbrace telematics system revolutionizes in-car connectivity by providing the first-ever OEM solution that links cars to smart phones and their apps, according to an exclusive analysis from iSuppli Corp. iSuppli’s Automotive Business Unit recently performed a usability test on the new 2010 Mercedes-Benz E-Class, which incorporates the new mbrace telematics service. iSuppli was the first technology research firm to obtain an mbrace-enabled Mercedes-Benz, getting access to the vehicle just one month after the service launch.

“The new mbrace telematics platform stands high above Mercedes-Benz’s previous solution, called Tele Aid,” said Mark Boyadjis, analyst and regional manager for iSuppli. “By delivering the auto industry’s first telematics-enabled apps, mbrace has set a new benchmark for how to integrate smart-phone applications into the vehicle. Hughes Telematics Inc., the service provider behind mbrace, has integrated features like remote door lock/unlock and vehicle finder into customers’ mobile devices. The mbrace system enhances the usability of the telematics services and increases the relevance of the overall platform.”

Based on an embedded 3G Telematics Control Unit (TCU) from Continental AG, mbrace and uses Verizon Wireless as the network operator. This is the same hardware platform that was employed by Mercedes’ previous Tele Aid services. However, Hughes Telematics now is working to develop a new hardware platform that will enable more new services, according to Mercedes-Benz.

“From firsthand experience, I can say the remote door lock gave the E-Class the ‘wow factor’ among the people I showed it to,” Boyadjis said. “The mbrace smart-phone application worked great once I downloaded it on a Blackberry and an iPhone. From either device, I was able to lock and unlock the doors simply by pressing an icon on the device. Being in the frigid upper Midwest region of the United States in December, most people asked if I could start the car from the phone as well. Unfortunately, the answer was ‘not yet.’”

The performance of the vehicle finder was a bit quirky, according to Boyadjis. It was able to locate the car only once out of four times tested. The vehicle finder enables users to search for a lost car in a parking lot by putting the location of the automobile directly on a map on a users’ mobile device. The performance of the vehicle locator is temperamental and subject to poor GPS signals or other problems that may be out of the control of Hughes Telematics and Mercedes-Benz.

“Despite the issues with the vehicle locator, the rest of the mbrace services worked well, including destination Search & Send using Google Maps,” Boyadjis said. “These useful features allow the motorist to get more out of the telematics system and sustain a higher level of customer interaction.”

Currently, there is no remote diagnostics feature in mbrace. Furthermore, mbrace does not include any bundled Location-Based Services (LBS) for use with the onboard navigation system.

“We were delighted to be the first market intelligence firm to have access to this vehicle,” said Phil Magney, vice president of iSuppli’s Automotive Business Unit. The 2010 Mercedes E-Class is among dozens of 2010 vehicles already tested by iSuppli as part of its Automotive Infotainment Usability service.

Research from this service is available via iSuppli’s Infotainment Usability Portal, which provides examinations and analysis of the infotainment, telematics and navigation features of late-model vehicles. Through the development of a unique test script, iSuppli is able to assess the latest infotainment features and functions. The test procedures focus on common elements of infotainment functionality, including digital entertainment, device compatibility, telematics and LBS services, navigation and routing and Human Machine Interface (HMI). Delivering this usability information in a portal format makes it easier to use and provides a valuable supplement to existing in-house usability practices. Through this portal, iSuppli clients are able to access results, the test script, comparison videos and an exclusive rating system.

More info: iSuppli’s Infotainment Usability Portal