I wish more phones had this Ford hybrid feature

EV+ lets hybrid owners feel even more self-satisfied (and use less fuel) Credit: Image via fordowner/YouTube

Namely: knowing where you work, where you live, and giving you more "gas" when you're near them.

Perhaps the only thing worse than people telling you that they have a Killer App Idea is when people compare computing devices to cars. I can only beseech you, then, to bear with me: my car gave me an app idea today. It is not the worst app idea you'll hear.

I do not particularly like the software in any car. But Ford hybrids have this interesting thing: "EV+." I think a feature or app like EV+ for a phone would be rather grand.

In most of its use, a car with EV+ acts like any other hybrid: drawing battery power from braking and downhill cruises and excess engine power, using the battery to propel the car and increase mileage, and keeping an ebb and flow between the two. Except when you're close to home, or work, or the gym, or your kids' school. Then your car can drive almost entirely electric, at muscular speeds and acceleration, even with the heat fans cranking.

That's because the car has used its built-in GPS signal to take note of where you bring it to a stop and park it for notable amounts of time. It can also trace which roads you take to get to those points, and turn on EV+ when you're on those roads, heading to those points (as opposed to simply being nearby). When you're heading to them, it's like a runner in a race approaching the finish line; there's no need to conserve energy, because it will all be over soon. There's not much chance of fuel depletion or battery tap-out. It's a nice break from feeling conservative.

There are many apps that can keep a passive watch of where you are and do something when you're nearby. Google has a whole geo-fencing capability built into its latest Android builds that developers can utilize. And apps like Locale and Tasker can make your phone do literally anything when near that location. But it all requires foresight, configuration, and specifying exactly which functions should happen at exactly what locations.

Automated tools that don't ask much before changing something walk a thin line. Allow me, however, to whiteboard a few possibilities of built-in "watching" functions that a phone might notice:

  • Go silent or vibrate-only-on-phone-calls at around the time that you last power off the screen and don't look at it again for more than 7 hours (a.k.a. bed time).
  • Turn on power-saving features (delay non-essential apps sync, lower brightness, etc.) in the time period traditionally farthest apart from charges.
  • Have the apps you always open in your morning no-talk-just-phone moment already loaded or displayed in a grid just before your usual wake-up time.
  • Like EV+, learn about destinations by your length of time stopped and the route taken to get there with occasional location checks. Then slip into "commute mode" when on those routes: read text messages out loud, automatic speakerphone, big distraction-reducing buttons or audio cues, and so on.
  • Always vibrate, or remind you of missed calls, or use a different ring/vibrate pattern for the one, two, or three people who call or text you the most. This is certainly a feature you'd be prompted to keep or turn off, in case your boss has tragically supplanted your friends and loved ones.

There are individual apps working some of these watch-and-optimize angles, particularly with email and social networks. And there are phones, like the Moto X, trying to learn a lot about you and customize little experiential things. But it's my impression that no phone system right now actually tries to understand your day as you live it and get better at being there, and being ready, when you normally need it.

What else could our phones suggest to us, following us around all day?

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