Hughes Telematics recently announced its partnership with Mercedes-Benz on the automaker's new line of "mbrace" mobile telematics solutions. The system, which connects mbrace-equipped vehicles with an app installed on the user's Apple iPhone or RIM Blackberry, allows people to lock and unlock their doors, contact roadside assistance, get in touch with a local dealer or find their vehicle in a crowded parking lot. It's a relatively trick technology that we spent some time with at the LA Auto Show, and there's plenty of potential on the horizon.

Although the functionality is pretty basic so far, it's seamlessly integrated with the vehicle and covers the most essential elements of telematics setup.

The user logs in and enters a pin (required every time you use the app for security and safety reasons) and then can choose between three tabs:
  • Vehicle: Lock and unlock doors, vehicle location and assistance
  • Dealer: Contact a local dealer or find one nearby
  • Account: Manage your account with M-B, make payments, etc.
The interface on the iPhone is decidedly more sexy than the Blackberry – no surprise considering the age of RIM's OS – but both systems work as advertised and the potential for expansion is easy to envision.

Hughes representatives hinted at the possibility of diagnostic, maintenance reminders and a summary of daily driving information (mpg, fuel efficiency, miles traveled, etc.), along with integration with the vehicle's navigation system to find preferred routes to and from a location based on traffic conditions. Nothing revolutionary, but that's not what it's about – it's about integration. The rest will flow as the systems get more complex and assimilated into the vehicle's internal systems. Naturally, there's plenty of talk about lifestyle applications, covering music, messaging, note-taking and other seemingly simple programs currently available on most smartphones.

The mbrace system launched on November 16th, and as previously covered, owners of older Mercedes vehicles (as far back as 1999) can upgrade for a nominal fee. If you're not toting around an iPhone or Blackberry, fret not, Hughes is looking into other mobile OSs (Android, WebOS, etc.), but considering that 75% of Mercedes-Benz owners carry either an Apple or RIM device, there's not a ton of incentive to develop for other platforms... yet.