Samsung Connect Auto upgrades your car with 4G Tizen

Samsung may not be building a car, but it is building a car connectivity system, with Samsung Connect Auto aiming to make your existing auto smarter. Plugging into the OBD-II port found under the steering wheel, the LTE-equipped dongle offers WiFi hotspot functionality as well as tapping into detailed performance, economy, and maintenance metrics from the car itself, freeing drivers from the dreaded and confusing "Check Engine" light.

The dongle itself will use AT&T's network, initially at least, in the US, and run Tizen. Samsung KNOX, the data and app security system we've already seen on the company's Android smartphones, will also be included, with the aim of alleviating any possible concerns of data privacy.

That's particularly important as Samsung is pushing Samsung Connect Auto as instrumental in new insurance models. One of the possibilities will be usage-based insurance, where occasional drivers can potentially save money by only coughing up for coverage when they actually use their car.

Samsung is partnering with AXA Assistance on insurance products, though it's not the only firm working on Samsung Connect Auto. HERE, Cisco, Ericsson, IBM, and others are all collaborating, though specific apps and services are yet to be detailed.

What we do know, however, is that there'll be software that can track and assess safe and economical driving, as well as warn parents or businesses if the vehicle is driven outside of a certain geo-fenced area or above a certain speed. "Find my car" apps and journey logs will also be offered, in addition to warnings if the car moves unexpectedly.

It's not a new idea, with companies like Automatic and Vinli already offering OBD-II dongles, but Samsung's brand and its deep pockets could well give it an edge.

Interestingly, Vinli – one of a rare sub-breed of smart car adapters to have an onboard LTE connection – counts Samsung Ventures, the company's investment arm, among its backers.

Like Vinli, Samsung Connect Auto will offer a "virtual mechanic" that, by monitoring the car's status through the data port, will be able to make proactive maintenance suggestions as well as flag up potential problems, in theory before they get too serious.

Third-party developers will be able to create their own Tizen apps using the dongle's own SDK.

Speaking to SlashGear ahead of Mobile World Congress, where Samsung Connect Auto will make its official debut, the company explained that one of its goals is to inject some fun into vehicle metrics. That could take the form of a social leaderboard of economy figures, for instance, with friends competing to see who can drive the most frugally.

However, Samsung is also in the midst of discussions with a number of automakers, the company told me, regarding including Samsung Connect Auto with new car sales. A significant contributor to the platform's appeal is KNOX, given recent high-profile car hacking stories.

It's undecided at this stage whether the dongle would be preinstalled by dealerships, offered as an "added extra" to new car buyers, or integrated into the car's systems itself.

Although it has a vested interest in Android, Samsung plans to release companion apps for both Google's OS and Apple's iPhone. The dongle itself will cache data when outside of cellular coverage, synchronizing it with Samsung's cloud – which will be offered in both consumer and enterprise versions – when reconnected.

Though connected vehicles are becoming increasingly common – the vast majority of new GM models, for instance, have built-in 4G modems – they're far outnumbered by existing "dumb" cars already on the road. The OBD-II port, which was federally mandated on all vehicles built for the US market from January 1, 1996, offers a workaround there, effectively bypassing the dashboard software wars that Android Auto and Apple CarPlay have waded into by tapping straight into the car's core systems.

Samsung hasn't said exactly how much its connected car adapter will cost, though promises it will be relatively affordable when it goes on sale in the US come Q2 this year. Broader availability, including Europe, will follow on in Q3 2016.