2013 UConnect Access and UConnect Access Via Mobile:
the next generation stereos/navigation systems/and more
As predicted by oh2o, the 2013 Ram 1500 debuted with a next-generation Uconnect® system. Ram 1500 owners can manage their connected services from the 8.4-inch touchscreen display, or via the web. The new Powernet electrical architecture allows new content, with better data speeds. (Note: this system is completely different from the Fiat/Microsoft-based “UConnect 5.0,” discussed at the end of the page.)
UConnect 8.4 is built atop QNX, a tight and secure version of UNIX developed by RIM (the Blackberry™ telephone maker). Chrysler and RIM are reportedly working together for full BB10 (BlackBerry OS 10) integration. BB10 is expected to have greater “machine to machine” capabilities than past versions, which should beneft future versions of UConnect (thanks, DDakRT).
The base 2013 Ram radio will be the Media Center R1; it has a four-line text display, USB input, and iPod integration, with an optional CD player. The R2 adds a five-inch touch-screen, speed-controlled volume, satellite radio, phone and voice control, EVIC personalization, and GPS receiver; a rearview camera and remote CD player are optional.
The next-generation UConnect comes with the next stereos. The UConnect R3 (8.4 inch touch-screen) adds UConnect Access, including crash notification, 911 or roadside assistance calls, monthly vehicle health reports, voice texting, WiFi hotspots (pay per use), dead-reckoning with gyro, and optional rear-seat Blu-Ray DVD player; buyers can pay $595 to upgrade it with navigation. But those who want navigation should get the R4, which costs only $500 more, and also includes HD radio. A CD player is in the lower storage bin of the center console.
The Uconnect Media Center R4 adds HD Radio, SiriusXM Travel Link, and SiriusXM Traffic and a remote USB port in the media console to the R3 capabilities.
Both have an expanded SiriusXM Satellite Radio channel lineup, with new Latino channels (an industry first).
The R1 and R2 are made by Conti; the R3 and R4 are made by Harman Kardon. All of them use a separate CD player (apparently optional on R1), as do the stereos used in the Dodge Dart.
Tom’s Hardware looked into UConnect Access and found it used Texas Instruments’ OMAP-DM3730 SoC, a new version of a processor used by Hyundai and others, which has a smaller die (45 nm vs the old 65) and higher clock rates for the memory controller (20% higher), graphics (80% higher), and imaging/video/audio engine (50% higher). It uses the PowerVR SGX530 graphics core.
The DM3730 uses a single Cortex A8 core, with a 1 GHz maximum clock rate. Tom’s wrote that this might have been reduced to cut heat and power usage; they also noted that while the system may seem old compared with smartphones, embedded systems require long life support and tend to use “mature” products.
The system has 512 MB of memory, plus 16 GB of eMMC flash storage in place of a hard drive or such. That 16 GB holds the QNX operating system, maps, and programs. The operating system is QNX Neutrino RTOS 6.5.0; the system is apparently set up by Harman and Chrysler, working together. Harman also holds the Infinity, JBL, Lexicon, and Mark Levinson brand names, and is very popular in the automotive world, making systems for Toyota and many others.
Operating tips and notes
The system cannot read Apple Lossless files or certain high-resolution AAC files (we haven’t figured out which ones, or why, yet), or copy-protected AAC. The latter can be replaced cheaply and easily if they were purchased from the iTunes Store, which is now AAC-free for music. These files can all be reformatted using various utilities, including iTunes.
Regardless of whether you use SD, USB, or iPod, the stereo organizes your music by artist or title, and lets you shuffle or browse; if you browse, you can either use the touch screen or the tuning knob. We found the latter to be faster, most of the time. iPod connectivity is generally good but there can be quirks; but with SD and USB card compatibility, it seems unnecessary for anything but listening to audiobooks anyway. (Audiobooks from audible.com have a nasty copy protection scheme which iPods can decode but the car stereo can’t.)
We were surprised at how well the system took a bunch of tunes deliberately not stored in folders, and sorted them by artist and by album, with the GraceNote-powered cleanup option. The interface will use your folder names for the artist and album if it can’t figure the music out.
In the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee setup, one cannot shut the stereo, just mute it (though the amplifier still shuts down); so when you turn your car back on, the stereo is on again.
The Uconnect Media Centers R3 and R4 have a built-in cellular connection (wireless connectivity is supplied by Sprint), allowing UConnect to finally match OnStar’s emergency response button; hence the new “911” button on the rearview mirror.
Ram truck owners will be able to use select, certified in-vehicle applications as well; they will be controlled with voice recognition or steering wheel controls. One built-in program lets customers get vehicle health reports and remotely lock or unlock truck doors, start the vehicle, or flash lights via the Web or a smartphone.
The 8.4-inch touchscreen includes the award-winning user interface designed by Chrysler Group Human Machine Interface engineers, with large icons and visual cues.
The UConnect system is now able to get application updates over the air; and owners can download updates or new applications directly, via the 8.4-inch touchscreen. Some buyers can also get their non-navigation UConnect upgraded to include navigation, after they buy the car.
Uconnect features one-step voice command of navigation, the ability to check real-time fuel prices and listen and respond to text messages, and familiar knobs for climate and comfort controls.
Uconnect Access controls are on the steering wheel; customers prefer audio controls at the rear of the steering wheel, and Ram was the first truck maker to integrate these. Audio system controls, including next station, radio preset, and previous station or track, are on the left. Volume and audio source are on the right.
The optional Uconnect Voice Command allows drivers to control their mobile phone, music, and navigation system; when a compatible Bluetooth mobile phone is initially connected to the system, the phone book is automatically downloaded to the truck, synchronizing as many as 1,000 phone book entries, which can then be selected by simply saying a contact name. The feature also allows drivers to switch radio modes, and request real- time information (such as fuel prices) from the available SiriusXM Travel Link using natural voice commands
UConnect Access Via Mobile
UConnect Access Via Mobile builds on Chrysler's philosophy of sensible connectivity -- which has been all the more appreciated after Ford and BMW went for “feature lists” and ended up with harshly criticized (and, in Ford's case, buggy) systems. The system is based on QNX, and many programmer interfaces are shared with BlackBerry OS 10; POSIX compliance should also make it easier to port from Android and IOS.
Content is streamed through the customer’s existing smartphone data plan; the system uses the programs’ familiar symbols, e.g. Pandora’s “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” buttons, while steering-wheel controls enable easy song-skipping. Applications approved so far include:
- Aha™ by HARMAN: Access over 30,000 “stations” of audio content including music services, news, entertainment, audiobooks, Facebook and Twitter newsfeeds, customized food and break stations, weather, and more.
- iHeartRadio: Clear Channel's digital music service, adapted to cars.
- Pandora® automatically creates personalized radio stations based on songs submitted by the user; it is powered by the Music Genome Project®, a detailed, hand-built musical taxonomy, modified by listener feedback, with more than a million tracks included.
- Slacker: millions of songs in hundreds of stations.
UConnect Access already provides fully integrated cloud-based voice-recognition technology to enable Voice Texting (creating text messages via natural speech) via Bluetooth-equipped smartphones that use the industry-standard Message Access Protocol (MAP).
The same capability supports an upgraded navigation system that accepts one-step voice-commands for destination entry, as well as voice-driven Internet searching to find points of interest and place hands-free calls to them or add them as a destination.
SiriusXM Satellite Radio
Ram is the first in the automotive industry to take advantage of SiriusXM’s expanded lineup, with more commercial-free music, sports and comedy, including Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Radio, ESPN’s SportsCenter, Carlin’s Corner, and SiriusXM Latino, which alone has 19 channels of Latin programming (ten commercial-free music channels, and Spanish-language sports, news, talk and entertainment). Ram customers get a 12-month SiriusXM premier subscription when purchasing a satellite radio-equipped 2013 Ram 1500.
The R3 and R4 navigation system have 3D landmark imagery, city models, and digital terrain. Directions are given audibly and also appear in the vehicle information center. The system has enhanced graphics and a one-step voice entry system so customers can say the address and go.
SiriusXM Travel Link is available on vehicles with the R4; it provides...
- Weather: coast-to-coast weather data, current conditions and five-day forecasts, detailed storm cell information, hurricane and tropical storm tracking, local wind speeds and even ski resort conditions
- Fuel Prices: prices, locations and distance to more than 120,000 fuel stations across the United States, and can have the navigation system route to a selected fuel station location. The feature also can search for fuel grade, gasoline or diesel
- Sports: in-game and final scores and weekly schedules from the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, NASCAR, golf, college football and basketball
- Movies: uses listings from more than 4,500 movie theaters across the United States, with navigation to selected theaters
- Traffic: real-time traffic speed and flow along with accident information
UConnect 5: Fiat and Microsoft
Fiat’s version of UConnect is their own completely home-grown UConnect 5, named for the size of the screens on the hardware it uses. The system is spatially more compact, including hardware, and cheaper to build. It uses Microsoft Windows Embedded, the same system underlying Ford’s often-panned telematics system.
While Fiat started with the system in 2006, the second generation, launched in 2013, was the first that Chrysler used in its own cars (not counting Mexican Fiat 500s). The UConnect 5.0 system launched in various Chrysler cars and trucks including Ram 1500 with the 2014 model year. It provides services similar to Chrysler’s UConnect, and it is likely that Fiat designers borrowed some Chrysler interface elements for their own efforts, given the praise UConnect received and the critical lamentations over Fiat’s “Blue & Me.”
The Fiat system uses TomTom navigation, which some prefer to the Harman and Garmin systems used by Chrysler.