Twenty-Four Hours With Pro - The TL;DR story of a Gen2 user’s upgrade experience.

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This isn’t really a question, so I’m going to pretend someone asked me, “What was your first day with ‘Pro’ like?”

There have been a lot of questions in the support forums following the launch of “Pro” and, like many of you, I had questions about what this meant. Should I upgrade or not? What do I gain and what do I lose? I read through support articles trying to put the pieces together until my eyes bled, but then Amazon had $20 off the “Pro” over the Black Friday weekend, so I went ahead and took the plunge.

What follows are my impressions of the “converting from Gen2 to Pro” experience after 24 hours with the Pro. In short, this is the write-up I wish someone else had written before I made my purchase. I hope this helps.

By way of disclaimer, please remember that this is the result of only 24 hours with the Pro. Some of what I write here may not be 100% accurate, but it’s 100% accurate *based on my first-hand experience thus far*. I’m happy to be corrected where correction is warranted.

So, without further ado ...

PACKAGING
First things, first ... when you open the package for the Pro, be careful. The box has a top and bottom “half” that fit together tightly. When it finally “gives” there’s a decent chance that your adapter will go flying. If you’re not picturing this in your mind, don’t worry – it’ll make sense when you’re looking at the box.

INSTALLATION
Installing the “Pro” was *almost* painless. Here’s how it went down for me ...
I downloaded the new app, grabbed my “Pro” adapter, and headed out to my car first thing in the morning – figuring I’d fire this thing up for the drive to work. The app asked me to sign in to my Automatic account – no problem. Then it asked if I wanted to set up a device and suggested that, before I do, I pull my car out in the open where I could get a good 3G signal. That probably wasn’t necessary in my garage, but it will probably save someone who parks underground a lot of pain wondering why they can’t set up the device.

The app asked me to input my “Pro” adapter’s PIN – no problem. Then it asked me to plug in the adapter while the car was turned *off*. Here’s where I encountered a bit of a glitch. When I did so, the app told me it couldn’t complete setup because my car battery was too low. (For the record, no it wasn’t.) Next, I decided to ignore the “keep your car turned off” part of the directions as surely my car would be supplying more “juice” while it was running. That worked like a charm.

(Pro tip: Write down your PIN before you plug in your device and begin setup. Otherwise, if setup fails, you’ll have to pull it back out to input the PIN again, then plug it back in, etc. Just write it down.)

Interestingly, when setup failed because of the allegedly “low” battery, I got a full-screen disclaimer about not being responsible for draining your car battery if you leave the adapter plugged in. That sort-of makes it sound like leaving your adapter in is going to run down your battery, but the drain is minimal. I imagine the warning was just something their lawyers suggested. If you’re going to leave your car in storage for a few months, it might be a good idea to unplug the adapter, but otherwise you should be fine.

(Pro tip: Unplug your adapter when you take your car in for service. Otherwise, your mechanic *will* unplug it and lord knows where it will end up.)

Back to my setup – I want to be clear on something. The instructions say to keep your car turned off for the first part of setup. I ignored that and it worked anyway, but that doesn’t mean it’ll work for you. Also, note that I plugged in the adapter first and *then* turned on my car – not the other way around. I doubt that makes a difference but, just in case, that’s how I did it.

After the app connected to the adapter, it asked me to upgrade the adapter’s firmware. Sure, that sounded like a good idea, so I started the upgrade. At that point I was in danger of being late to work, so I started driving to work while the firmware upgrade took place – but it completed without a hitch. The upgrade was done in maybe 5 minutes. As soon as the device came back online, the app recognized that a trip was in progress and started tracking it. So far, so good.

Apart from the “car off/on” glitch, setup was very smooth. I was also pleased that I didn’t have to do anything in order for Automatic to recognize that this was the *same* car with which I had been using a Gen2 adapter just yesterday. It recognized the car and pre-populated the make, model, and “name” I gave it way back when I set up my Gen2.

I do have a minor quibble, but it has nothing to do with the device itself – hear me out. During the setup process, you’re asked to pick a “body style” and “paint job” for your car. Those choices determine what the little car in the on-screen animation looks like - and that appears to be *all* it does. So here’s my quibble: Part of the messaging around the launch of “Pro” implied that letting go of some of the Gen2’s “less popular” features was a decision based on development resources. In other words, some other (real) feature probably got left on the table so that someone could spend time designing this little picture of your car and the accompanying animation. Personally, I’d rather have had a “real” feature instead.

LIVE TRACKING
I was about halfway to work when setup was complete, so I got to see “live tracking” in action for the second half of my drive. In essence you get to see your car on a map – just like you do in any GPS app. The difference is that the information is coming from the adapter, not from your phone. That means that, if someone *else* was driving the car, I could be sitting at home and watching my car’s location in (almost) real time on my phone. I say “almost” real time because the position was just a few seconds “behind.” That makes perfect sense if the data is going from the adapter, up to the Automatic “cloud”, and then back down to my phone.

(UI Tip: If you scroll the map at all during live tracking, touch the little arrow icon in the lower right corner of the screen to snap the map back to your current location. I mention this because it’s easy to scroll the map accidentally and then wonder why your car isn’t on the map anymore.)

(Dev Suggestion: The “live tracking” map would be practically real-time if it used the Bluetooth-attached phone’s location data *when it is available* and fell back to its own GPS chip when it isn’t.)

To summarize: With Gen2, you get summary trip data and GPS path information *after* a trip is complete. With “Pro”, you get the same thing, but you also get “live” GPS positioning while the trip is still in progress.

IN-APP TRIP LOGGING
Remember how I didn’t have to tell Automatic that I was driving the same car? Good news ... the new app will display all of your “old” (Gen2) trips in the summary – in the same format as it displays the new “Pro” trips. The opposite is *not* true though. If you open the “old” app, you will not see any of the trips you’ve made with the “Pro” adapter. That doesn’t matter to me, but I thought I’d mention it.

The new app organizes your trip summaries a bit differently than the “old” app did. In the “old” app, you got a list of your trips – in order. In the new app, your trips are rolled up into daily summaries, and a tap on any day will drill into that day’s trips in the “old” style. On the positive side, you get a daily summary of miles and time driven. On the negative side, this might make things difficult if your trip spans midnight (which day is that on?) Either way, if you *really* want detailed information about multiple trips, the online dashboard will give you a better experience than the app anyway.

One last thing, you can tag a trip as “business” with a single tap on a little icon that looks like a briefcase. Simple – I like that.

IN-APP NOTIFICATIONS
The new app can send a push notification when your car starts or is turned off – and those notifications are enabled by default. In my experience, they arrive in less than a minute – not bad. It’s also nice that the “on” and “off” notifications are enabled *separately*, in case you want one but not the other.

Another minor quibble: The app sends the push notification even if the Automatic app is already in the foreground, which seems unnecessary. Other apps are able to send notifications only if you’re *not* already in the app, and that would be nice here too.

PARKING
After you park, and once the app recognizes that you *have* parked, it shows you your parking location. You get the option to take a picture of your parking location, and you can start a countdown timer (in case you’re on a parking meter). There’s no real “wow” factor there, but they were thoughtful additions.

THE APP UI
I couldn’t avoid talking a bit about the app above, but this section is devoted solely to the app design. The app has four “tabs” along the bottom: Activity, Health, Insights, and Glovebox [sic].

“Activity” is just what you expect. This is where you see all of your trip summaries and, if the car is moving, the real-time tracking.

“Health” is where you see your “check engine light” events and your fuel fill-ups. The “check engine light” feature works exactly like it did in Gen2, but the “Fill ups” feature was a disappointment for me – and that deserves some explanation.

For context, the Gen2 adapter did this nifty thing where it would sense when you added gas, use some kind of wizardry to (fairly accurately) determine the price you paid for that gas, and then use that information to calculate cost-per-trip statistics. The only problem was that there was no way to *edit* the price information if Automatic got it wrong – or if you got some kind of discount that the adapter couldn’t possibly know about.

In the online literature, “fuel level” was listed among the Gen2 features that were *not* ported to the “Pro”, but “fill ups” was still there. That left me a bit confused - if the device knows when you filled up, then obviously it can sense the fuel level, right? I thought perhaps that meant that the app simply wasn’t going to *show* you the fuel level or alert you when you’re running out of gas. That didn’t bother me, since I don’t need my phone to tell me I’m out of gas if I’m already sitting behind the wheel. It just seemed like an odd thing to omit.

Unfortunately, I was surprised to learn that the device really *doesn’t* use fuel level data at all. Worse, that means that it no longer auto-detects fill ups. Logging fill ups is now *entirely* manual. The app will bring up gas stations that are close to you, to make it a bit easier, but you still have to type in how much gas you pumped and at what price.

So here’s my plea to the folks at Automatic: The car is sending the fuel level information to the adapter whether you’re using it or not, and you’ve clearly already got the code to implement the fill-up detection, so please put it back. I understand that it doesn’t work for *everyone* and it doesn’t work perfectly *every* time, but it hurts nothing to have it there for those of us who liked it - just add the ability to edit the fuel price.

The “Insights” tab is the new app’s answer to “driving score”, and it’s a welcome change. In the old app, your “driving score” was emblazoned on the screen whether you wanted it or not. It wasted a lot of on-screen “real estate” and it was pretty unforgiving. For example, your score went down every time you drove over 70 mph, ignoring the fact that several jurisdictions have speed limits higher than that. The new app fixes this by giving you horizontal bar charts comparing your “city driving”, “highway driving”, “braking”, and “acceleration” with data reported by other Automatic users. It no longer judges whether you’re a good driver or not – it simply tells you how you compare to other users with no qualitative judgment at all. It also moves this whole thing to a separate tab so people who don’t care won’t have to be bothered with it unless they choose to be. Thank you, Automatic!

This is also a good time to mention that the naggy little warning beeps are gone too. In Gen2, you could configure the adapter to beep at you if you went too fast, braked too hard, or accelerated too quickly. Granted, you could turn that off, but if you had to drop features, this was one that I won’t miss. On the flip side, this also means that there are no more audible alerts when your device connects to your phone – or fails to do so – but the persistent 3G connection means that doesn’t really matter anyway.

“Glovebox” seems to be the “everything else” tab. This is where you find “synchronization status” (how long ago the adapter synched with “the cloud” and whether it’s currently connected) as well as your “crash alert” settings. You can pick up to three contacts to be notified in the event of a crash. I couldn’t help but notice that the crash settings list me as the “primary driver”, which *implies* there might be a way to set up “other” drivers. Perhaps there is. It wouldn’t be difficult to detect *which* phone was connected to the adapter via Bluetooth, but I certainly don’t expect that.

Beyond the tabs, the app’s setting menu lets you connect to IFTTT through the browser (it doesn’t kick you over to the IFTTT app), get a list of other apps that work with Automatic, add other vehicles, log in/out, etc.

“EVENT BASED” APP INTEGRATION (e.g. IFTTT)
If you’re an IFTTT junkie, it’s worth noting that there are a few differences in what’s “triggerable” with the “Pro” adapter. (And remember that the “Lite” adapter doesn’t appear to support IFTTT at all.) Short version:
• You gain “entered an area” and “exited an area” (not just “ignition on/off in an area”).
• You lose “button pressed” (which only worked for certain Ford vehicles anyway).

Luckily, the “ingredients” (data) you can get back from IFTTT haven’t changed – or at least the names haven’t. But just because they have the same name doesn’t mean they’ll actually pull back exactly the same data in exactly the same format. Even if they do, there’s no guarantee that changes in the future won’t make them diverge.

If they’re drawing from the same data, and continue to do so, that gives me hope that “fixes” to the data reported by one will fix the other as well – but I’m betting that won’t always be the case. Let me give an example to make this clearer (to us nerds, anyway):

Presently, IFTTT can report back a “TripPathImageMapURL” for each trip. As you might imagine, it’s a URL to a (Google) map image of the trip’s GPS track. Unfortunately, while Google’s API only supports URLs up to 2048 characters, Automatic will happily spit out a URL much longer than that – resulting in a broken link. The data isn’t “wrong” – it just needs to be down-sampled. If this gets fixed in the “Automatic” (Gen2) channel, I have hope that doing so will also fix the “Automatic Pro” channel because it’s the *data* being fixed, not the mechanism between Automatic and IFTTT. Time will tell.

One more thing: The device has changed but the data has not – even if the data is no longer used by the app. For example, Automatic still reports “Time over 70mph” and “hard stops” to IFTTT, even though the new app does nothing with that information (remember, no more beep). The data still shows up on the online dashboard, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the choice of metrics collected evolves over time.

“STREAMING” APP INTEGRATION (e.g. OBD Fusion)
I’ve only tested OBD Fusion, but perhaps this will apply to other apps as well. So far, with regard to OBD Fusion, the “Pro” device works just like the Gen2 device with one exception during setup. With Gen2, you’d configure OBD Fusion to use “Automatic” and then make sure your phone was paired with the adapter over Bluetooth (99% of the time it already was) before pushing “connect” in OBD Fusion – and it just worked. With “Pro”, it looks like there are two *different* Bluetooth connections. Let me explain:

I configured the app for “Automatic” and then flipped over to my phone’s Bluetooth settings to see that the adapter was connected to my phone (and it was). Nevertheless, pushing “connect” in OBD Fusion just gave me a failure message. Then, at the bottom of my Bluetooth settings, I noticed something odd - specifically, “Q9-Automatic Pro” was “connected” in “My Devices”, but “Q9-Automatic Pro (“ was listed under “Other Devices” (those that are detected but that have never been paired). Once I clicked *that* device and *both* of the Bluetooth connections were active, OBD Fusion connected.

Just because it’s odd, and because of the way English uses quotation marks, I want to be absolutely clear about something: The second connection really was named “Q9-Automatic Pro (“ – it ended with a left parenthesis. (I’m sure it didn’t really end like that, but that’s as much of the name as could be seen on the screen – the rest wasn’t visible.) The takeaway is still this – look for that second connection.

ONLINE DASHBOARD
*Nothing* changes in the online dashboard – all of the data from the new adapter looks just like it did before. I mention this just in case someone was wondering.

GPS TRACK DATA “RELIABILITY”
Now’s a good time to talk about another one of the advantages of the Pro. With the Gen2 device, you only got GPS track information *if your phone was in the car*. If the phone *wasn’t* in the car, all you’d get would be summary data, like how far the car was driven, for how long, etc. – the GPS track wasn’t recorded. This never made sense to a lot of people – myself included.

The original (Gen1) adapter didn’t have onboard GPS – it leveraged the GPS of the connected phone. In that case it makes perfect sense that the GPS track wouldn’t be available if the phone wasn’t in the car – neither was the GPS chip. But the Gen2 adapter had its own GPS chip in *addition* to being able to read the connected phone’s location over Bluetooth. It seemed (to me) that the Gen2 adapter ought to be able to record the data from its own GPS chip and then report that data when the phone reestablished contact – just like it did with trip summary data. Perhaps it was a limitation in the Gen2 adapter’s storage, but storage is cheap and I think most people would have been willing to fork over a few dollars more for *reliable* GPS track capture.

Now, with the “Pro” adapter’s persistent 3G connection, you’re pretty much always going to get GPS track information. According to the literature, even if you don’t have a 3G connection, the “Pro” adapter will retain up to 8 hours of driving data over a 28-day period and report that back when it reestablishes a 3G connection again.

That last bit gets me to wondering – the literature says that the “Pro” adapter *only* works in the US. I’m sure that’s a limitation of the 3G connection, but I’m also sure that the adapter doesn’t simply quit functioning when you drive across the border. I’m sure it’s simpler all the way around for *most* people if they just say “it doesn’t work”, but I’m betting it’s still going to retain that same “8 hours over 28 days” of data and I can’t see why it wouldn’t report that data back when you got a (US-based) 3G connection again. I’m sure this only matters to a tiny fraction of the user base, but if anyone has experience with this, I’m sure others would appreciate knowing.

(Dev Suggestion: If onboard storage is the limitation, why not use the resources of the Bluetooth-connected phone - if there is one? i.e. Try to send data over 3G. Else, try to write it to local storage. Else, send it to the app over Bluetooth and have the phone try to send the data. Else, store the data in the app for subsequent upload. In effect, this would give you “Pro” connectivity in the US and “Gen2-style” data collection everywhere on the planet.)

GPS TRACK DATA “ACCURACY”
I never noticed this happening with my Gen2 device, but the “Pro” device had a couple of little “deviations” from reality when it logged my GPS tracks. There were only a couple, and the deviations were very small, but every so often it would show me “jumping” from one road to a nearby parallel road and then back ... or show me taking a corner (that I didn’t take) and then coming right back onto my true path. GPS isn’t perfectly accurate and I’ve experienced this sort of thing with handheld GPS devices while hiking before, so it’s understandable – I just don’t remember that ever happening with my Gen2 device.

There’s a support article that says they try to determine your most logical route, given the not-entirely-precise location data they’re given. Perhaps they just need to dial the “smoothing” up a notch.

OVERALL (ACCEPTABLE) “LAGGINESS”
This isn’t a problem – just something you’re going to learn to accept. The Gen2 device sent data directly to the phone’s app over Bluetooth. The “Pro” sends the data up to “the cloud” over 3G, then your phone’s app has to pull it back down over a cell/WiFi connection. More jumps means more lag – that’s just how it is. As a result, you may be sitting in your just-parked car for a few minutes while the app still says you’re driving, or vice-versa. Sometimes the lag has been more than a minute, but never more than five.

Those among us with some level of OCD will be sitting there thinking, “C’mon, ... c’mon already!” but a lag of up to a minute or so should be perfectly acceptable when you think about it. I mean, seriously – if you’re sitting *in* your car, you already know that you just parked, right? Give it a minute.

WHAT’S MISSING (REMOVED)
So now let’s talk about what I’m “losing” when I go from the Gen2 to the “Pro” ...
• The buzzer – don’t need it.
• “Driving score” – good riddance.
• The fuel gauge – my car came with one.
• Auto-detection of fill ups – I’m really going to miss this.
• “Brief stops” – I’m going to miss this one too.
• “Nearby Mechanics” – It did a Yelp search. I’ve got Yelp on my phone. I’m good.
• “License +” – I never used it, so I can’t comment.
• “Custom Place Names” – Again, I never used it, so I can’t comment.

REMAINING UNTESTED
I haven’t had the opportunity to test the following:

• Alexa, Stringify, and Muzzley integration – all of those are “event based” so I imagine any changes here would have reared their head in IFTTT as well.

• “Check Engine Light” – Maybe it does something different from the Gen2. I’ve been lucky enough never to have had an engine fault with either adapter, so I can’t comment.

FEATURE SUGGESTIONS
There are a few things that I’d like to see added. Some are “new” features, but some are also features that Automatic simply removed and, in cases where they’re not dependent on hardware that was also removed, ought to be simple to put back.

• Give us back “Brief Trips.” This was implemented as a switch which, if you flipped it, would combine trips with fewer than 15 minutes between them. Thus, if you’re running a bunch of quick errands, they all show up as one long trip instead of several shorter trips.

• Give us back auto-detection of fill ups and fuel prices. Again, it may not have worked for everyone, but it hurts nothing to give it back to those of us who enjoyed it. I don’t care about how much gas I have, or the low-tank notifications - my car came with a gas gauge built in. 

• Add “plugged/unplugged” triggers and/or notifications. Hear me out on this – one of the suggested use cases is essentially “keep track of your kids and how they drive”, but that only works while the thing is plugged in, right? Obviously, you can’t track driving while the device isn’t plugged in, but you *could* let me know that my kid just unplugged it so I can deal with it “appropriately” later. Naturally that requires power, but I’m betting there’s a capacitor somewhere on the IC that would have enough juice to send a final “I just got unplugged” message. (See next item for an alternative.)

• Add an “odometer.” It ought to be possible to read the vehicle’s odometer and add that to trip summary data. This would also enable the ability to set notifications every 5k miles, etc. If you add this, you *wouldn’t* need to add the “plugged/unplugged” notification. You could tell the device was unplugged by a jump in the odometer between trips.

• Add some kind of speed logging. Again, you get this data from the car anyway, so why not put it to use. Right now I can just see where the car went, and when. I have no *native* way to tell how fast the car was going and I imagine that’s *very* important for the “keep tabs on my kid’s driving” use case. My suggested visualization: 1) Add real-time speed to the “live tracking” view, and 2) Color code the GPS track by speed – perhaps green for under 30, yellow for 30-55, orange for 55-75, and red for anything above that. (For an example, look at how OBD Fusion does this already.)

WHY NONE OF THIS BOTHERS ME
I’m going to tell you why these changes don’t make me angry, or feel betrayed in any way. To be clear, I’m not telling you how *you* should feel. I’m simply telling you why I feel the way I do.

Regardless of the words used, timing, or targeting of the message, we were essentially told: “The thing you have right now is going to continue to work just fine, we just won’t be adding any new features. If you want those features, buy the new one.”

That happens with *all* tech products. For instance, Apple recently told us all – essentially: “If you still have an iPhone 4s it’s going to continue to work just fine, you just won’t be able to upgrade to iOS 10. If you want those features, you’ll need to buy a new phone.”

That’s just how technology works. Computers, phones, cars, all of it – there’s always going to be a new model with new features. Yes, I’ll be a bit upset if I buy the old one a week before the new one is announced, but what’s the alternative? Sure, they could have told me six months in advance, but then the guy who bought it 7 months ago will just feel the same way, right?

There’s nothing *wrong* with my Gen2 device. It still does what I bought it for and it has no moving parts so it’s likely to continue doing so for a long time. If I really *had* to have fuel-level notifications, nothing was forcing me to buy the new one.

Do I think the company should offer a discount to existing Gen2 owners? I won’t lie – it’d be nice, but frankly, I don’t *need* a discount. I can always sell my Gen2 on eBay, right? They’re going for about $75 as I write this – probably still more than $50 after fees. Or – Christmas is coming. I’m sure I know someone who’d like to have the old device, so I can just spend the money I *didn’t* spend on their present towards a new one, right?

CONCLUSION
You’re still reading? Wow – thanks. Feel free to tell me where I’m wrong – I’m still learning too. I’m just hoping this helps the people out there who are “on the fence” about upgrading, like I was. On the whole, I think the changes are a step forward.

I’m sure *someone* out there is convinced I’m shilling for the company – I’m not. I’m not happy about losing “brief trips” and automatic detection of fill ups, but I’ll deal with it. At the same time, looking at it from the company’s point of view, sometimes you find that you’ve come as far as you can come with a given set of hardware. That’s not cheap, both in terms of development cost and customer goodwill, but sometimes you just have to “rip off the Band-Aid.”

I think the company has a lot of challenges ahead of them. After all, more and more cars are coming with some of these features built in at the factory. If I were in their shoes, I’d be looking to get ahead of that wave by licensing their IP to the auto manufacturers directly. In essence, trying to have cars roll off the line with a “Powered by Automatic” sticker somewhere. Time will tell.
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ed1chandler

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Posted 2 years ago

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Ljuba

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What an amazing write-up of your experience with Automatic Pro. It's a treat to get such thorough feedback. You're spot on about a lot in there! 

It's also nice to know that overall you're happy with Pro. I'm glad you see the potential in it too. It's one of the reasons we built a new app from scratch – to let us build the kinds of features you write about. Of course, not everything that existed before will make a comeback. That's the challenge of managing tradeoffs we do every day. 

We've got an app update coming out soon a few additions I think you'll enjoy. Stay tuned!
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Amy

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Hi Ed-

First off, as Ljuba said, amazing write-up. Thank you for taking the time to so diligently document and share your experience thus far with Automatic Pro. I certainly appreciate your passion!

I've responded to a few things below (in italics) and provided clarifications or corrections where needed just to make sure that the correct information is being shared. Your words are quoted.  

"When I did so, the app told me it couldn’t complete setup because my car battery was too low. (For the record, no it wasn’t.)"

This is a new feature to ensure the process of Setup doesn't kill an already low-voltage battery. Your battery voltage when the car was off was being read by the adapter as being below what we consider a safe threshold but the fact that you turned your engine on (which charges your battery) is what enabled you to get through Setup. However, we don't necessarily recommend that across the board as it could cause an issue in some cars. Glad it worked for you, though!


"Pro tip: Write down your PIN before you plug in your device and begin setup. Otherwise, if setup fails, you’ll have to pull it back out to input the PIN again, then plug it back in, etc. Just write it down"

This is actually not recommended. If Setup is forcing you to remove your adapter to reenter your PIN it's also likely that you need to remove your adapter to "wake" the adapter back up which will go to sleep if too much time passes during any particular stage. This is why Setup times out. If the user never removes the adapter, they'll be stuck in infinite loop Setup hell as the adapter has powered down.

"Pro tip: Unplug your adapter when you take your car in for service. Otherwise, your mechanic *will* unplug it and lord knows where it will end up."

This is just good advice all around! I also just discovered this week that some smog check stations will automatically fail you if you have anything plugged into your OBD port. This is because the port is being "blocked" so they can't access it even though all they'd have to do is pull it out. Also, some OEMs and some mechanics are not fans of aftermarket OBD adapters and will threaten you with taunts of voiding your warranty because you're using one. This could be true, but not really if it's not in your end-user warranty agreement with the car. Which is a thing folks should check & be aware of anyway. 

"Back to my setup – I want to be clear on something. The instructions say to keep your car turned off for the first part of setup. I ignored that and it worked anyway, but that doesn’t mean it’ll work for you. Also, note that I plugged in the adapter first and *then* turned on my car – not the other way around. I doubt that makes a difference but, just in case, that’s how I did it."

Glad you stipulated this. Again, I'm glad it all worked without incident for you, but we don't recommend plugging the adapter in with the engine running. It could cause unknown behavior

"After the app connected to the adapter, it asked me to upgrade the adapter’s firmware. Sure, that sounded like a good idea, so I started the upgrade. At that point I was in danger of being late to work, so I started driving to work while the firmware upgrade took place – but it completed without a hitch. The upgrade was done in maybe 5 minutes. As soon as the device came back online, the app recognized that a trip was in progress and started tracking it. So far, so good."

Once again, glad it worked, but we don't recommend driving the car before Setup has completed. Best to wait and do Setup when you have 10-20 minutes to spare. (It does go even faster for some. Just depends)

"In other words, some other (real) feature probably got left on the table so that someone could spend time designing this little picture of your car and the accompanying animation. Personally, I’d rather have had a “real” feature instead."

Not really. A little design touch like that is fairly low cost compared to features that might require more developer time than one realizes

"Unfortunately, I was surprised to learn that the device really *doesn’t* use fuel level data at all. Worse, that means that it no longer auto-detects fill ups. Logging fill ups is now *entirely* manual. The app will bring up gas stations that are close to you, to make it a bit easier, but you still have to type in how much gas you pumped and at what price."

Ok, there's a lot of confusion around this and I had to do some checking to ensure that I fully understand what's changed and what hasn't. The only things that have changed are that we no longer give you a low fuel alert or show you your fuel level in the app (which is the feature that was only available to some users based on their car) BUT we do allow you to enter and customize all your own fill-up data so that you can have a log of fuel fill-ups. Logging fill-ups did not exist at all before. I've found that Automatic always guesses the right gas station for me so I never have to search for that. And I have it set to always assume "Premium". So then it's just a matter of entering the number of gallons I've put in. The price per gallon is almost always already right and I've found that I rarely have to edit it.
The way we calculate MPGs and price per trip 
is exactly the same and still uses the same data source and algorithms we used before. So if your car reports fuel level, we ARE still detecting this and grabbing the gas price of what was likely the station you filled up at. If your car does not report fuel level, we do it as we always have, by averaging out the gas prices in the area you frequently drive. Does that make sense? 


"With the Gen2 device, you only got GPS track information *if your phone was in the car*. If the phone *wasn’t* in the car, all you’d get would be summary data, like how far the car was driven, for how long, etc. – the GPS track wasn’t recorded. This never made sense to a lot of people – myself included."

Not so. The adapter still tracked the route, stored that data and delivered the entire route back to your phone after your next "connected" drive. I'm surprised you didn't see your routes for trips you took without your phone in the car. Here's a FAQ with more about that. Also, no trip data would show up for trips w/out a connected phone until after your next connected drive. All that data is captured & stored on the adapter in that case, until it has the opportunity to sync with your phone and "dump" the data. So the Gen 2 adapter works exactly as you suggested it should work. :) If this wasn't your experience, there must've been something very strange going on and I'd love to understand what that was.

"
That last bit gets me to wondering – the literature says that the “Pro” adapter *only* works in the US. I’m sure that’s a limitation of the 3G connection, but I’m also sure that the adapter doesn’t simply quit functioning when you drive across the border."

True, if you drive across the border it will likely work like normal for some distance as cellular signals don't necessarily end at the border. But where the signal ends is amorphous and we don't know exactly where they are, so we'd prefer to keep it clean & simple with US boundaries. However, if you're based in the U.S. and have set up Automatic in the U.S., any road tripping you do when not covered by the cell signal -- in the US or its neighbors -- would still get tracked & stored on the adapter. As long as GPS signals are working, you'd get route data. US-based services like Crash Alert would not work at all of course and there'd be no real-time tracking. But once you were back in cell range, up to 8 hours of driving data from the past 28 days would dump to the app. Here's a FAQ with more on that process. We can't speak to how Automatic will work or behave with cars not manufactured to US OBD standards, though.

"
The Gen2 device sent data directly to the phone’s app over Bluetooth. The “Pro” sends the data up to “the cloud” over 3G, then your phone’s app has to pull it back down over a cell/WiFi connection. More jumps means more lag – that’s just how it is. As a result, you may be sitting in your just-parked car for a few minutes while the app still says you’re driving, or vice-versa. Sometimes the lag has been more than a minute, but never more than five."

Not exactly. While Gen 1 & 2 used Bluetooth to tell your phone right away that the car was off at which time you'd see a notification about the trip processing, all the data was still sent to the cloud for processing first before it was delivered back to your app. There seems to be a perceived lag in this piece with the new product, but the time between engine off >> trip details delivered to app is generally faster now. It's just that there's no indication in the app that something is happening like there used to be so you feel like you're waiting longer. 

Finally, you made some good development suggestions that the team has already been considering. It'll be exciting to see what happens in 2017!


(Edited)
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ed1chandler

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Oof, this is getting hard to follow - let's break it down point-by-point. :-)

Battery: Got it.

Unplug/Re-plug on Setup Failure: Cool - I can't remember if the on-screen message *says* to unplug it, or just start over. That might be worth verifying on your end.

OBD Adapters & OEM Warranty Threats: Mechanics and manufacturers can threaten whatever they like, but if they could actually enforce it I don't imagine the insurance industry would be moving towards telematics-based rating with OBD devices. I had *not* considered that using an Automatic adapter would make it impossible to *also*use an OBD adapter for insurance rating purposes *at the same time*, but I'm sure you have a plan to deal with that already.

Driving During Firmware Update: Yeah, I live on the edge like that. ;-)

Animation vs. "Real" Feature: Again, point taken, but - while developing *new* features might take significant time - implementing "dropped" features that already work using code you've already developed wouldn't have. While I love that the "driving score" is no longer forced on me, that same screen "real estate" is now taken up with this animation - which adds nothing to the data-driven experience. It's almost like someone said, "Heck, we have to fill that space with *something* -- Fred, go whip up a little animation or something."

***** Warning to other users: If you don't care about fuel level features, skip down to the horizontal line. :-)

Fuel-Level Features: Agreed there is confusion on this - and I'm still confused based on what you've written here and my experience with the actual device. At the risk of being painstakingly clear, let's split these features out so they stand alone and deal with each one separately. Before we do though, let's stipulate that yes - perhaps all cars don't report fuel level data, but mine *does* so that's not the source of my confusion.

FEATURE: Low Fuel Alert - Gen2 had it. Pro/Lite doesn't.

FEATURE: In-App Fuel Gauge - Gen2 had it. Pro/Lite doesn't

FEATURE: Manual Entry of Fill-Ups - Gen2 did NOT have it. Pro/Lite does. In function, you pick "add fill up", then pick a gas station from among those detected nearby. Once you select the station, you "select fuel grade" along with the auto-detected price per gallon for each. Then you "enter details", where you input the number of gallons and can *opt* to override the auto-detected price per gallon. Finally, you "enter date and time", which defaults to the current date/time.

When you say "logging fill-ups did not exist at all before", that's true if by "logging" you mean collecting fill-up data in this way - where you can go back and actually see the details of each fill-up, individually. But, in order to calculate MPG and cost per trip, Gen2 must have been "logging" the fill-up data in the background, even if it wasn't presented to the user anywhere in the interface. THAT'S the part that's still in question for me, which brings us to ...

FEATURE: Auto-detection of fill-ups - call it "background" auto-detection if you prefer. In Gen2, the device had this little internal monologue going on, where it would say to itself, "Whoa, the tank just went from x% full to y% full, and I know the tank is so large, so that equates to n gallons of fuel. The closest gas station is blah and the price for that fuel was likely $z per gallon. I'll file that away and use it to calculate cost-per-trip metrics." To be clear, there was no *evidence* that any of that was going on if you were just looking in the app, but it had to calculate MPG and cost-per-trip *somehow* and my read of the support articles seems to support that conclusion (or something pretty close, anyway). The *only* problem with this feature was that there was no way to edit the data that Automatic was "auto-detecting" if it got the wrong station or the wrong fuel price.

Now that I've been using the Pro device for about a week, I can see that it appears to be doing EXACTLY the same thing (as you said). Nevertheless, this is still confusing because the auto-detected fuel data still isn't exposed in the interface. That means I'm manually entering fill-ups at the same time that the device is trying to figure it out for itself, and I have no way of telling if the device's information is accurate or duplicative of what I'm entering on my own.

e.g. If the device detects what it thinks is a 3-gallon fill-up at $2.15 per gallon in the background, I never see that. If I then enter that same fill-up, which might have actually been 3.06 gallons at $2.09 per gallon, I don't know if the device is smart enough to equate those or think that I've filled up *again* and it just didn't notice.

So, rather than collecting two different sets of fill-up data (manual and "auto-detected") while only exposing one to the user, it would make *MUCH* more sense to have the auto-detected fuel-level changes appear as a "fill-up" in the Health section ... which the user can then view and edit if necessary. And, obviously, if the vehicle isn't transmitting fuel-level data, then there won't be any fill-ups being detected and the user will need to enter them manually.

Here's the simple version:
1) If fuel level is detected, log changes as "fill-ups" in the health section using the same logic as you do now ... just show it to me and let me edit it.
2) If fuel level is *not* detected, let me add fill-ups on my own.

Granted, for vehicles that *do* report fuel-level data, this will require some logic to reconcile manually entered fill-ups that don't seem to match up with what the device is being told. e.g. "You just logged a 3-gallon fill-up at $2.06 per gallon. Is this the same fill-up as this auto-detected one? (yes/no)" You get the picture.

----------------------------------------

Gen2 "Missing" GPS Tracks: Hmm, after reading the FAQ you linked (and the one linked in it) I'm inclined to think that I was noticing this behavior before the "mid-March 2015" app change mentioned in the FAQ. I'm inclined to concede this one since finding an example would mean sifting through several thousand trips -- a number that's growing rapidly without "brief trips", I might add. ;-)

Lag: Yep, I was only talking about the delay between engine-off and in-app notification of same - which *has* taken 2-5 minutes before, not the delivery of trip summary data (which may well be faster now).

Dev Suggestions: Happy to be a sounding board. ;-)

In all, I'm still enjoying the device. If the fuel features work as I think they do (above), then I recognize that I still haven't *lost* anything - I'm just getting the ability to log fill-ups manually *in addition* to whatever the heck it does in the background.
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Amy

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Interested in our Field Test program, Ed? We always appreciate getting folks into the program who are both open-mind and thoughtful with their feedback. If so, please send an email to support@automatic.com about it and ask for me and I'll connect you with the right person. 
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ed1chandler

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Done
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Amy

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Hi Ed,

I'm going to keep this one briefer. :)  Again, your words in quotes, my responses in italics.

“Unplug/Re-plug on Setup Failure: Cool - I can't remember if the on-screen message *says* to unplug it, or just start over. That might be worth verifying on your end. “

The app does prompt you to unplug the adapter during Setup if that’s what’s needed so all good there.

I'm not going to quote all your fuel feature points but yeah, you get the basic gist of how it has always worked. And regarding your requests for "marrying" the two pieces of technology there: The piece of code that was written to manually log fill-ups is brand new and totally separate from the code written a long time ago to do all the automated back-end calculations for processing trip cost & MPGs. Yes, ideally these would be connected and inform each other and maybe that’s what will happen in the future but that wasn’t possible for launch for a variety of reasons. However, I'm not making any claims or promises about what may or may not happen. ;)

"I was only talking about the delay between engine-off and in-app notification of same - which *has* taken 2-5 minutes before,"

I checked in with the product team about this. There are lots of factors that can affect notification delivery -- carrier sluggishness, iOS sluggishness, Android sluggishness, our own servers can get backed up due to rush hour or for some other reason -- but we just deployed a major improvement to our part of it, which should make things faster in many cases.

“In all, I'm still enjoying the device. If the fuel features work as I think they do (above), then I recognize that I still haven't *lost* anything - I'm just getting the ability to log fill-ups manually *in addition* to whatever the heck it does in the background.”

Correct. The loss here is the “Low Fuel Alert” that some folks do feel is a loss. However, for those who have an Amazon Echo, it will still report your fuel level if you ask it. (Of course only IF your car supports that functionality ;) That's delivered via the API as part of our Alexa integration and hasn't been changed. (Similarly, you can still get a trip by trip log of your "hard events" and even your overall "Drive Score" should you care to see it, in the Web Dashboard because that's fed from the server and the Web Dashboard hasn't had any updates in quite some time and works with all our products.)