Tesla’s Model S App is 9to5Mac’s Best iPhone Application of 2013

There have been a lot of important apps released for iOS (and Mac) this year. As you can imagine, we’ve covered many of the big ones.  But for me, nothing has been a bigger game changer than Tesla’s Model S App. I’m sure many folks will pooh-pooh the idea that an app that is for 30,000 or so households should even get mainstream coverage. But bear with me here. The company has revolutionized the ways in which cars interact with smartphones and these advancements will trickle into more car/apps over the coming years..

For those out of the loop, the Tesla Model S is a fully electric car that can seat up to 7 people, propel them from 0-60 in about 4 seconds and has a battery range of about 250-300 miles fully decked out. It has the lowest coefficient of drag of any mass produced car, has gained the best safety rating ever from the NHTSA and has more interior storage space than many minivans and SUVs.

Many have compared its disruptive nature and its charismatic CEO Elon Musk to Apple and Steve Jobs.

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I plunked down for mine at the end of last year which is also eligible for $7500 US Federal Tax credit.  Since then, the base model price and configurations have changed, but at the time it seemed like a good price on a great car. TL;DR ->It was.

What’s somewhat unique about the Tesla from an app standpoint is that the car itself has a persistent internet connection – through AT&T in the US, and other carriers abroad. That means a lot of things (like built in internet radio, OTA software updates, remote diagnostics, etc) but it is especially important to the Tesla iPhone app.

Other car companies have their own persistent internet connection but they are barely utilized for anything helpful unless you find yourself in a ditch and forget how to use a cell phone. GM’s OnStar, BMW’s Assist, Lexus Link or others all are almost solely used for emergencies. Tesla allows you to connect to your car through the app so long as the car is within mobile coverage or near a wifi hotspot. That does use significant mobile data but Tesla has subsidized the cost of data somewhat like what Amazon does with their Kindle Fire LTEs.

Tesla’s app allows you to control your car in 4 major ways over the internet:

  • View and control the charge/door
  • Geo-track it in real time with speed and direction
  • Remotely control locks, sunroof, horn and lights
  • Adjust the interior temperature

What’s important here is that you can do this from almost anywhere. You can check the charge of the batteries of your car from another continent for instance – but that’s abstract (not that I haven’t). On my train ride home from the city on a cold day, I can start the heat in my car from 20 miles away. What’s even better is that at a mall 100 miles from your house, you can remotely find the general area where you parked your car on the map then flash your lights or beep your horn until you find your car – which of course you’ve heated up as you were waiting in line to buy your Christmas presents.

As an electric car owner, knowing how much charge I have can be important when that batteries get low. If the Model S is charging while we’re at dinner or out shopping, I can keep an eye on how much charge I’m getting and when I can leave.  On long trips at Supercharger stations, this is even more important.

The app gets the most use however when my wife takes the car out for work or with the kids. Instead of calling her and having her fumble for her phone while driving, I just open the app and I know where they are in seconds. I can see how fast they are going, if there is traffic and what their ETA is so that I can time dinner plans or know if I have time to grab a coffee.

At first, the idea of following the car seemed very stalker-ish, and there will certainly be people who don’t like to know that their car can be tracked by an app LoJack-style, but if you are in a normal, trusting relationship, it isn’t a big deal

Obviously, there is a security component here, so you need to login to the app with your Tesla registered email and password. You can use multiple devices including tablets and Android devices (there is even a Google Glass App).

The app isn’t perfect obviously. It could use an iOS 7 UI update, it sometimes takes up to a minute for the car to respond to commands and there are a lot more features it could add. Overall however, it feels very “Louis CK” to complain about something so revolutionary.

Update: Here’s a better video demo on YouTube:

As for home automation, I use a Nest Thermostat and can control the heat of my house from anywhere. I use a Philips Hue light bulb with which I can control the lighting color and brightness in my house, and a Dropcam for checking in on my kids when I’m away. Imagine all of these apps in your car and you can begin to imagine what Tesla has built. Tesla’s disruption doesn’t end at the car; it extends into your smartphone.

And even better yet, I’ve heard they have a lot more features in store for both the app and the car.

If you are into the Electric Car/Tesla scene, please check out Electrek.co, a new blog on all electric transportation. 

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  1. Tiby Anita Csapo - 9 years ago

    I think you forgot to add the “Sponsored Post” tag…

    • Seth Weintraub - 9 years ago


      • Tallest Skil - 9 years ago

        His implication is that you’re being paid by Tesla to promote their software.

    • stephenpace - 9 years ago

      @Tiby: Tesla owners love their cars. You can accuse us of working for Tesla, but it doesn’t make you right. Go meet some Tesla owners at your local Coffee and Cars and I think most owners feel the same way. And when Tesla apps arrive late in 2014, you’re going to see a lot more articles like this in the tech press. Google and Apple made some announcements this week, but Tesla is currently ahead of the game at this point with their completely updateable console and infotainment.

      • Seth Weintraub - 9 years ago

        Tesla owners are often compared to Apple fanboys. Oh, the irony.

  2. TechSHIZZLE.com - 9 years ago

    Ok, I’m pooh-pooh-ing.

    Basically, you like the app because the car has a persistent internet connection.

    If I want to know where my wife is when she’s shopping I’ll “Find Friends”. Or I’ll text her.

    • Seth Weintraub - 9 years ago

      Less big brother than find myfriends or Google Latitude – I’d rather know where the car is than my wife TBH :P

  3. Tomas Vaitkevicius - 9 years ago

    Great car, great app, great idea, great article :)

  4. Shahab 21 (@Shahab_21) - 9 years ago

    This app is revolutionary but yet I didn’t expect 9to5mac to choose it as the the App of The Year. I mean its superbly awesome, the features are extraordinary but then again after paying $70k for the car, $600 for the phone, and paying for the internet connection on both you kind of expect these features.
    This choice seemed more like a matter of personal opinion.

    • Seth Weintraub - 9 years ago

      Nobody is offering up any better alternatives than what I put at the top of the post?

    • falconfour - 9 years ago

      Well, consider that no other car and phone offered for $70k and $600 has ever been able to bring this much connectivity and control between the two. That’s some really useful stuff, as the article explains – not just useless features crammed into a box like most cars and phones do. Well-executed, well-designed… just what an app should be. I own neither, and I think it’s beautiful.

  5. Clint (@ClintAustin26) - 9 years ago

    I don’t doubt it’s a great app and the car is cool, but shouldn’t the app of the year be something that a lot of people use? Not just the few thousand Tesla owners?

    • Seth Weintraub - 9 years ago

      that criticism was addressed in the 1st paragraph.

      • Anticipating the complaint doesn’t make it any less true, you know…

      • Clint (@ClintAustin26) - 9 years ago

        Addressed or not, it’s a valid point for an “app of the year.” You chose an app of the year that probably 99% of your readership doesn’t care about and can’t use. It comes across more as an advertisement for Tesla, honestly. I mean, that’s ok, too. It’s your blog and you can write about what you want. I can understand your wanting to write a review about an app you love and a connected automobile you own, but it’s not really very relevant to your readership as an app of the year, whether you acknowledge the criticism or not.

    • driverbenji - 9 years ago

      To quote the writer, from the first paragraph: “The company has revolutionized the ways in which cars interact with smartphones and these advancements will trickle into more car/apps over the coming years..” This is why it is app of the year. App of the year doesn’t need to be something everyone will download right now. It’s like an award, like the fastest runner, most creative art piece, etc. …This is the “9to5Mac” blog, maybe you thought you were on the “9to5Toys” blog?

      I think it’s great. It won’t be that long before there is a mainstream Tesla. They are doing their best to get to the point of mass producing/marketing their all-electric cars, which is more than you can say about GM or any other carmaker.

  6. Felix Wegscheider - 9 years ago

    Greatest Car on planet!!!!!!!

  7. Jim Teal (@jmtwn) - 9 years ago

    Seth, thanks for the review of a part of the Tesla experience that hasn’t been covered much. As much as the UI is beautiful, the app isn’t ground breaking.

    I own a Ford Focus Electric and I use the iPhone app MyFordMobile. With it, I can check the charge status, remotely start, adjust the temperature, and better yet, set GoTimes so that my car is ready on a predefined and overridable schedule. I can check the cars location, and all driver stats are based on the proximity key used for the trip, so my driving habits and related metrics are distinct from other drivers in the house that use the other key.

    Additionally, Ford uses this app for The Focus Electric and the Energi line of cars including the CMax and the Fusion. And the app included Ford specific social media integration to allow drivers to compare their driving experience and performance against others. The app doesn’t have the eye candy that the Tesla app has, but it is feature rich and very usable.

    The myFord Touch system also includes a hot spot feature so that while my phone is in the car, passengers can connect to my hotspot FOCUS-ON-ELECTRIC. Ford is doing a great job of enabling usable technology in a lower price band product.

    I own stock in both companies!

    • Seth Weintraub - 9 years ago

      Thanks Jim. My understanding of the Ford App was that it wasn’t as robust but it does have many of the same features and some additional ones.


      From the app description it doesn’t seem to offer nearly as much but I’ll need to do more research here.

      • Seth Weintraub - 9 years ago

        I did look at the MyFord app on the app store (see link in story above). It doesn’t advertise most of the features you are comparing.

        But generally speaking you are talking about parity at best, and then obviously the Tesla is way cooler.

  8. I typically defend you guys pretty blindly, but this is a really poor choice. Just the fact that no other 9to5 editor could even have contributed to this review is cause enough. We realize you love your car, and this application has some cool features, but there are some developers out there who created truly tremendous apps, for the majority of iOS users, who deserve recognition. Dropped the ball on this selfish, self-centered selection.

    • Seth Weintraub - 9 years ago

      Well, no one had a clear winner. We talked about which apps we use every day this year that we didn’t use last year. I own the site so my opinion won. As I mentioned, this is the future of car apps so what you are looking at here will be everywhere in the next few years. The fact that GM cars with OnStar have been able to do this for years but haven’t is a clear missed opportunity.

      • I guess the thing that bothers me is that this app is neither an app I use, have the ability to use, or likely will ever be even capable of using. This review/award isn’t going to get anyone to download the app, buy a Tesla, etc. This is an app that you, and a select few other people (can’t be too many reading this post) can appreciate. The rest of us have to just think “Oh, good for him.” If you’re implying that “smart car apps” are the “next big thing” it would have made more sense to focus on the Ford app (even if it falls short of this Tesla app). At least it’s in our wheelhouse. Either way, I respect your decision, just am disappointed with it. Your site = your show.

      • smigit - 9 years ago

        Given you failed to reach a consensus, would you consider doing a follow up article which has each editors top pick or top three picks and their justification as to why they felt their options deserved to be the app of the year? I’m somewhat taken back by the choice made as others have been (not that I have an alternative to offer myself), and I’d be greatly interested to see what other suggestions the other editors had been floating. It was clear in the ‘XMas gift guides’ that the staff had some varying taste, so a round up article of everyones picks could be an interesting read and allow people not likely to ever be able to use the Tesla app to discover some alternatives that might match their needs.

  9. Dave (@DistortedLoop) - 9 years ago

    Hmmm…change the names from “Tesla” to “Ford” and from “iPhone” to “Android or iPhone”, and your article pretty much sums up Ford’s My Ford Mobile app for use with its plug-in electrics and plug-in electric hybrids. The app also works for a lot more than just 30,000 users.

    I use the Ford app with my plug-in hybrid C-Max Energi, for free. The car’s internet connection, also through AT&T, is pre-paid for by Ford for the first 5 years of ownership. I can track the car’s location, pre-condition the cabin, find nearby charge stations, remotely start the car, lock or unlock the car, roll down the windows, see the state of charge for the HV battery, see how much gas is in the tank, see the odometer, check tire pressure & battery health status, remotely set time-of-day charging schedules, see trip and charge logs, economy stats, driving stats, and several other mundane things. (I can also do all of that from any web-enabled device via Ford’s website.)

    There’s nothing revolutionary or unique to Tesla’s app that I can see.

    • Seth Weintraub - 9 years ago

      You are talking about this right?

      Doesn’t seem even close IMO. Also, I think that I was pretty clear that the Tesla app works on Android and Glass above.

      • Dave (@DistortedLoop) - 9 years ago

        “Doesn’t seem even close IMO.” – spoken like a true fan boy! LOL. Seriously, what isn’t close? There’s clearly parity between the Ford and Tesla apps in regards to each of the “4 major” game-changing features you mention as why the Tesla app is app of the year are matched by the Ford app: view and control charging, geolocation of the car, remotely lock and unlock doors, remotely start the car (pre-condition the cabin). Okay, the Ford app can’t remotely honk the horn, I guess that’s earth-shattering. All of this can be done remotely, via internet on phone of web-browser, from anywhere in the world. What real-life every day feature does the Tesla app have that Ford’s doesn’t? What did I miss in your article?

        I’ll grant you the Tesla app might **look** slicker with slightly pretty graphics, but I’m more worried about function over appearance. By the way, I use the Android version of the app, which might be “better” than the iOS app, but that would be highly unusual, iPhone apps almost always have at least parity with their Android counterparts.

  10. I will never own a car that has Google Spyware Inc. software running the dashboard.

    • Tallest Skil - 9 years ago

      Do you have a citation to where it’s stated that Tesla runs Android?

      • Seth Weintraub - 9 years ago

        It does use Google for maps and traffic but everything else is homebrewed. I don’t know how Google would use this against me but to each their own.

  11. Doobie Brothers - 9 years ago


  12. Clarke (@shadow_self) - 9 years ago

    In other words, “Hey everyone, look at me! I have a Tesla Model S!”

  13. zews1 - 9 years ago

    The all electric BMW i3, which will be released later this year in the USA will have a very similar if not identical app for iPhone and Android. http://www.t3.com/news/bmw-i3-ev-launches-with-iphone-and-android-i-remote-app

  14. You choose an app that requires a $70,000 car to F* use. You’re a bona fide idiot.

  15. René Való (@fiucsavar) - 9 years ago

    “I own the site so my opinion won.” – It must be a true honor to work with you… Anyways,like the article,going to like the car when it’ll be available in europe…

  16. eagleor - 9 years ago

    Anyone catch the the problem with the Stoddard test on the tesla safer car.gov video? Yea, no gas…hence not stoddard agent to check for leaks. Big gov, big army, big business all have the same protocols.


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Publisher and Editorial Director of the 9to5/Electrek sites.

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