Moving on From Automatic

Another Casualty of COVID-19

On May 1st I got an email from Automatic that said they were shutting down their service in 30 days. They implied it’s due to COVID-19 having an impact on their revenue. Which was a paradoxical surprise to me.

Why this didn’t surprise me is that whenever I gave suggestions to the team on the Automatic community forums I was always met with a dismissive reason why they couldn’t implement that feature; I wasn’t asking for the moon. The app has the ability to track when you fill up at a gas station and my suggestion was to simply add up the distance since the last fill up. If I remember correctly their first excuse was that the app didn’t track the odometer of the car. It was a shift of blame but when I pointed out that it doesn’t need to, that the service already tracks the mileage of each trip and adding all those up would be sufficient to get the mileage, I was met with a more direct dismissal.

I then suggested that they add a field for notes so we can type it in ourselves. This would take no additional server time and still just need one more column in the database. Once again the suggestion was dismissed. I don’t have a date on that suggestion; I tried looking at their Support Community but it is now offline and 404’s. I then searched my email for suggestions that had replies and I found a response from October 2018 with the same vibe.

Granted, iOS Shortcuts may be a bit more involved than adding an addtional column to the database and some server time for some math but the attitude still stands: They weren’t invested in creating a better product.

But what surprised me was the sudden annoucement. Each adapter was probably costing them a couple bucks a month to run, which was probably their highest overhead but the subscription model should have made that a wash. However, there may be a lot of sunk costs with prior business decisions.

When I bought my adapter, I paid ~$110 for the dongle and it included 5 years of cellular connectivity. I had no monthly subscription to worry about. I basically got everything under their Premium plan for five years. For free.

How many others had this sort of deal?

When I downloaded my 7 years of data, it amounted to a whopping 7 megabytes as a CSV.

While I am sympathetic to the many struggles that both individuals and businesses face in these current events, I can’t wrap my head around this. It’s a subscription service that charges you whether you drive or not. They were bought by Sirius XM in April 2017.

Are There Other Options?

This left me with a huge dilemma. How do I continue to do my Driving in Review Reports without Automatic? (2018, 2019, 2020Q1)

I could manually track my trips? I’d have to be careful about procrastination and would basically need to have a daily DOT log of my trips. I had to fill these out at a previous job, at the start and end of every shift I had to write down the mileage of the vehicle and the condition.

I don’t even know how to search for alternatives. My usual go to of finding competitors is typing in “product vs” into a search and letting the auto-complete give me alternatives. I got nothing.

Thankfully websites like MacRumors and Reddit reported on it and they have pretty strong communities, so I was able to follow the comments and found one alternative after a few days. Bouncie.

Bouncie

I knew I was in a good place when in the lower left corner of my browser Bouncie had a message waiting for us Automatic users.

I immediatley fell in love with the UI of Bouncie. By looking at the screen shots it was clear that the app had much more shine and polish over Automatic.

They also offered a lot of the same features Automatic did: location tracking, roadside assistance, trip history, smart integrations with IFTTT, Google and Amazon. In addition Bouncie also had more features built into the platform, for instance being able to color code speeds based on the speed limit or on your actual speed.

However, the subscription was a sticking point. It’s $8/mo. And while I have no problem paying for a service like this, I just feel it’s a little steep. I recognize their passing the cost of the 3G data onto me, which is probably $3/mo and the remaining fee goes to server time and employee overhead. While I’d love for it to be cheaper, I ultimately realized it’s reasonable.

I purchased the adapter from their website and five days later it arrived in my mail box.

Set up was fairly simple and didn’t take as long as the instruction said. I did have a few hiccups, the app says to look for a green light that displays the first 5 seconds the adapter is powered on. That light never showed but when I started the car about 3 lights lit up and briefly shut off, one of which was green. I crossed my fingers that everything was OK and proceeded onto the next step which involved “driving the car” for 10 minutes. I did a quick errand to a shop a half mile away and the adapter was online by the end of the short 3 minute drive.

I haven’t had a chance to do a lot of driving yet but the app did seem to report my fuel level as 15%, which didn’t match my in-cars fuel gauge. Automatic had the ability to report fuel levels but only on cars that reported that information over ODB-II and my 2008 VW Golf does not. Or so I thought. However, I haven’t seen the fuel level show up since.

I have since learned that Bouncie does not report my fuel level and 15% is the default level when you’ll get a push notification that your fuel is low (changeable in settings). The 15% I saw was likely a placeholder while the app was initializing for my car.

Battery information is displayed prominently on the car info screen (where the gas level would display as well) which is nice. Additionally, Bouncie also reports the odometer. I had to manually type it in but it updates the in-app odometer. It’s also easy to update, I updated it a few times already as when I stopped once the odometer in the car was different than the app, so I updated the app to match. This will slowly get the two more closely aligned as time goes on.

I can also add insurance policy information and car registration into the app so I can see when each is set to renew. Handy feature.

Another feature I love is the ability to take a photo of my vehicle. The photo then becomes the “profile photo” for that car, so if you have more than one car tracked by Bouncie you can easily tell them apart by image. In addition to the front-on photo they go the extra mile and allow you take additional photos from a front angle, side, and rear. The app even provides an basic vehicle outline so you can line up the car to the outline for better photos and angles.

On top of the photos the app also allows you to add your VIN and license plate. Some may see this as a little invasive but I welcome it. This info — along with the photos — should prove useful if your car is ever stolen. You at least have detailed information and a few different angles of your car to submit online and to the authorities. The live tracking would allow a quick recovery of your vehicle nonetheless, but on the chance they search for and remove any trackers like Bouncie.

Bouncie doesn’t provide any abilities to create graphs and charts for periods of data but neither did Automatic. If they did I’d feel like I’m getting my moneys worth at $8/mo but they let you export your data for use in Excel, which is equally fantastic. The data structure is a little different so I’ll have to tweak my spreadsheets but I’ll be able to continue with my Driving in Reviews.

How Does Bouncie Stack Up

No two apps will be similar so let me show you how these two are different. Below we have a screen shot of Automatic on the right (in red) and screen shot of Bouncie on the left (in blue). I feel like route views are the prominent view of the apps, and will only be directly comparing those.

I really loved that Automatic displayed the route you traveled for each day. It was cool to visualize where I went. Bouncie, doesn’t. They instead display a map location of where you last parked your car, which is why it’s blocked out since I last parked at home.

But when you look at individual trips, Bouncie will show you the route. What I love about Bouncie is that the app shows you your speed along the path. Which is neat but also extra information. This would be handy if you have a teenager or young driver and you want to monitor their habits. The exclamation marks are events, pictured below they represent hard braking and it tells me the start and stop speeds, as well as the deceleration in mph/s.

I definitely prefer Automatics presentation more, being able to quickly scroll through daily trips is super nifty when trying to find a specific route. Though I’m sure Bouncie’s method of prominently displaying the start and stop time will be just as easy, it’s just not a method I’m used to yet.

There is no section of the app to include visits to the pump, which is disappointing.

While Automatic may be gone, Bouncie is a decent alternative for those looking to move from A to B ;)

Photography & Technology is my thing.