Toyota's Interactive Owner's Manual App Thing Is A Good Idea

The owner’s manual is a pretty well-understood concept at this point. I doubt most of the Jalopnik audience would say it’s in need of improvement — it’s a floppy book that contains general information about your vehicle, and it serves that purpose well. But technology affords us new, potentially more convenient and engaging ways to convey information, and so I believe the interactive manual app thing Toyota is pitching in tandem with the new Sienna could be a pretty good idea.

Toyota says this app will be offered as a “pilot program” on the minivan, which suggests the digital experience will be optional for those that want it. We’ve reached out for more clarification on that front. Unlike most “digital” owner’s manuals, this isn’t a PDF version of the book uploaded to Toyota’s website; it’s software with a 3D model of the Sienna that can hone in on details inside and out, and is highly searchable through typed or voiced queries. And because it’s 2021, it talks back at you via an assistant with a slightly unsettling voice named Joya.

Now, personally I don’t think my owner’s manual needs to talk at me; this just seems like a way for Toyota to pretend it has the techy chops of an Apple or Google, because every carmaker is desperate for that perception. Then again, if someone is more likely to ask an app “How do I pair my phone to my Sienna” instead of thumbing through a 400-page manual flooded with information that doesn’t directly pertain to their model, then maybe it’s for the best.

Not coincidentally, Toyota’s relying on Google’s Cloud services to make all this possible. If it’s anything like the Google Assistant on Android phones, it should make the app pretty good at finding the right answers, even if you’re not asking a particular question with the ideal phrasing. And it covers a range of topics, too, from how to fold down rear seats to explaining how the around-view camera system works.

I’m sure there will be gaps in its knowledge base, which is why Toyota should probably keep publishing those text-based manuals in the interim. That said, if this app can answer some queries more quickly than vaguely searching on Google or skimming a dense manual would, I think it’s worth attempting.

Update 12:38 p.m. ET: Toyota responded to our question about how one accesses the app, who can access it and whether or not the regular manual will still be offered. (It will!)

The Toyota Driver’s Companion program is integrated within the One Toyota app (for Toyota customers) – and it’s exclusively for 2021 Sienna owners. Anyone can download the One Toyota app, but in order to use the app, it requires a Toyota VIN number. And when you input a VIN number for a 2021 Sienna, you automatically get access to the Driver’s Companion program.

Additionally, the drivers manual will still be available with 2021 Sienna models – Driver’s Companion is meant to be an enhancement of the manual.