Mercedes-Benz USA will soon start offering Facebook in its cars. The new feature will start with a limited version of Facebook available in the 2013 SL-Class Mercedes this spring, and follow on all Mercedes 2013 models that will roll out throughout 2012.
About six months ago, a Mercedes engineering team based in Palo Alto started developing the Facebook app with input from the social networking giant. The stripped-down version of Facebook only has a limited set of features that are specially designed for drivers and centered around the locations of friends and businesses.
"Now that cars have screens that are intelligent, you would expect that more and more car manufacturers will want to make those screens capable of allowing people to connect with their friends and take advantage of the social context that comes along with that," Dan Rose, Facebook Vice President of Partnerships and Platform Marketing, told Reuters. "One of the core things that people do on their screens in the car is GPS navigation and the ability to see which of your friends are nearby is something we think will be really interesting for people."
Offering Facebook in motor vehicles involves critical safety considerations, but Robert Policano, Mercedes' Product Manager for Telematics Services, claims the service is no more distracting than a standard in-car navigation system or radio. Most importantly, any Facebook activity that requires a user to enter text is disabled while the car is in motion. Mercedes' version of Facebook also does not support third-party apps, of course, meaning drivers will not be able to play social games.
That being said, the Facebook app offers a variety of pre-written messages that a driver can publish on Facebook with a few taps. For example, if a particular destination is already entered into the car's navigation system, the driver can automatically publish a Facebook posting stating they are en route to that destination, along with an estimated time of arrival based on current traffic patterns. Drivers can also quickly access a list of friends that are nearby, or restaurants in the vicinity that their friends have Liked on the social network.
The Facebook addition is part of a larger new in-vehicle mbrace2 telematics system, which features a high-resolution color screen near the dashboard and a high-speed wireless Internet connection, which Mercedes-Benz unveiled this week at this year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. The company has also built other special apps, including Google and Yelp, which Mercedes drivers can flip between by turning a knob.
The Mercedes version of Facebook reflects the social networking giant's desire to expand its platform beyond the PC and mobile device. Menlo Park wants to be present anywhere and everywhere a screen and an Internet connection is available.
The Mercedes-Benz Facebook Page has some 4.6 million Likes at the time of writing. You can check out more CES 2012 coverage on CNET and ZDNet.