We’ve written before about Automatic (a TidBITS sponsor), which makes a Bluetooth dongle (called the Link) that plugs into your car and transmits data to a corresponding app on your smartphone. In turn, the app helps track your driving habits, alerting you of potential pitfalls, and provides a host of other features (see “Automatic for the People,” 14 May 2015).
Here are some examples of what you can now do with Automatic and apps:
- Use RescueTime to see how much of your day is consumed by driving
- Import mileage into Expensify expense reports
- Create FreshBooks invoices from your mileage
- Configure your Nest thermostat to react to your car’s activity
- Send diagnostic data and receive repair quotes with YourMechanic
Unfortunately, there are still kinks to be worked out. When I tried to link my FreshBooks account with my Automatic account, I received an “expired_authorization” error. Nor is it always immediately obvious how to get an app or service to talk to Automatic, as some of the App Gallery instructions can be vague.
Along with a number of third-party apps, Automatic has contributed a couple of its own. The License+ feature, which helps coach teen drivers, has been spun out into a separate app (which prevents License+ from crowding out important data in the main app). Automatic has also launched a private beta of Automatic Fleet, which allows fleet managers to see drivers’ locations, driving patterns, when maintenance is due on each vehicle, and how much it costs to run the fleet.
Several apps in the App Gallery allow you to monitor real-time engine data from your car, but to take advantage of them you need the just-released second-generation car adapter. The new Link adapter features dual Bluetooth streams to support real-time engine data, an improved connector, and built-in GPS. The new Link sells for the same price as the old one: $99.95 or $79.96 with the TidBITS discount.
If you already have the first-generation Link, do you need to upgrade to the new hardware? No, unless you really want real-time data from apps like OBD Fusion, DashCommand, and Harry’s LapTimer. The company tells us that the built-in GPS of the new unit is actually aimed at addressing reliability problems, since Bluetooth communications can be flaky, particularly within a car, with all its metal parts and electrical activity. If you’ve had trouble with the Link losing communication with your phone, or if you purchased one very recently and you want that real-time data capability, contact firstname.lastname@example.org (please be patient, as Automatic’s support staff has its hands full right now).
If you ordered your Automatic Link recently, you may already have the second-generation hardware, since it quietly began shipping a week before the announcement. The company has posted a visual guide to determine which you have.
Even with the first-generation Link adapter, the App Gallery makes Automatic more powerful than before, especially for business travelers trying to keep track of their mileage expenses.