As the implementation of smart consumer electronics expands, there still exists a hurdle that will not go away easily. That is that for at least the next few years, older products will still be around that don’t offer any of these electronic innovations. One of these segments is cars, and Chris – a digital assistant accessory – aims to fix that.
The average car in the U.S. is 11 years old. And these 2007 car models don’t have the luxury of voice commands, controls through Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, and in some cases, they don’t even have Bluetooth. German Autolabs saw this need and created Chris to fill the void.
Design wise, the first time I laid eyes on Chris, which was being shown off at IFA Global Press Conference 2018, I thought I was looking at a Nest thermostat with the circular display in the center and brushed aluminum exterior outlay. It is magnetically connected to a base that can be attached to any windshield or dashboard via adhesive. Aside from the one single wire that powers Chris, it is a very clean set up overall.
Chris adds the four major feature drivers want from their cars: messaging, navigation, calls and music. It does this by connecting to your smartphone through Bluetooth. In case you are wondering, Chris supports both iOS and Android devices.
From there, it will sync up and deliver phone calls you receive, read and respond to messages, deliver music playback and provide navigational directions. Phone calls can be delivered through Chris’ integrated speaker or through the car’s infotainment system, for which it has a secondary Bluetooth connection.
Controlling Chris will be done entirely through gestures. Although it has an LCD display, it is not touch responsive. This was done on purpose to curtail the need to fiddle around with a smartphone and instead, nudge users to interact with the digital assistant through voice commands or gestures.
I am intrigued by Chris because it provides an avenue to give older cars a much-needed technology boost. Currently, I drive a modern car, but once upon a time not long ago my car was older than me and I was forced to slum it without Bluetooth and it was not fun.
Chris seems like a viable option to fill the void but it has many hurdles to clear. High up on that list is its price. While the idea of adding a digital assistant to a car 20-years-old sounds interesting, its $299 price tag wears some shine off the idea.
Nevertheless, Chris still presents new ideas to a segment that’s in the process of transition. It’ll still be a while before all the cars without modern infotainment systems are taken off the road. In the meantime, Chris can be the accessory that keeps these cars relevant.
German Autolabs is still working on Chris right now. Only a demo version was available, but a fully functioning version will be available at IFA 2018 later this year.