In the first week of January, while the rest of the country is trying to stick to New Year's resolutions and figure out new gadgets given as gifts over the holidays, the consumer electronics industry convenes in Las Vegas to showcase what's up next in tech. The International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is a sprawling convention that ranks among the biggest in the world, and car electronics continue to play an increasingly larger role in the extravaganza.
While aftermarket manufacturers dominated CES for years, automakers and their suppliers have begun using CES as a high-profile setting to introduce key new technologies. Two years ago Ford chose the occasion to launch its Microsoft-powered Sync system, with Bill Gates making it part of his CES keynote address. Last year, GM Chairman Rick Wagoner became the first auto-industry exec to deliver a keynote, while this year Ford CEO Alan Mulally used the occasion to highlight the new features of Sync 2.0.
Personalities aside, the real stars of the show are the innovative products and technologies that we'll be seeing in dashboards in the coming year. Among the thousands of products on display at the 2009 CES Show, here are seven of the coolest we found, and the tech we believe is most likely to change your in-car experience.
Alpine's Digital Media Station head units have set the standard in aftermarket iPod-integration since their introduction three years ago. The company's iXA-W404 ($550) is the first in the series to fit a double-DIN-size dash opening, and also one of the first aftermarket head units to control and charge the popular iPhone 3G. The iXA-W404's 4.3-inch color touchscreen functions similarly to those found on an iPhone or iPod touch, allowing users to browse their music collection by dragging the onscreen album art with the flick of a finger. Music can also be accessed using an alphabetized bar on the right side the screen, as on an iPhone or Touch. Video as well as audio can also be accessed via the iXA-404, and users can customize the display with one of five included widgets, including a clock, picture viewer and calendar, three of which can be viewed at once.
Audiovox FLO TV
Thanks to advances in car tech, you can now bring your entire music library into the car on a small portable device that fits in your pocket, watch DVDs in the backseat, make hands-free phone calls and receive text messages with systems like Ford's Sync, and get directions and information such as gas prices and movie listings from nav systems. Yet TV in the car (with the exception of expensive satellite systems and Sirius Backseat TV) is still not easily available to everyone. Audiovox hopes to change that through its partnership with Qualcomm's FLO TV. For a hardware price of less than $500, Audiovox plans to bring FLO TV content to both aftermarket and OEM rear-seat entertainment systems. FLO TV, which is available on certain Verizon and AT&T phones, currently costs $15 a month and is available in 68 markets. Along with our kids in the backseat, we can't wait to see if Audiovox's new system is finally the solution to getting affordable live TV in the car.
MiND ($699.99) stands for Mobile Internet Navigation Device, but this sleek piece of tech does much more than just provide directions and find Points of Interest (POI). Because it can connect to the Internet via either a WiFi connection or using a Bluetooth Dial-Up Network (DUN), MiND provides powerful and convenient Google mapping capabilities and can receive POI information wirelessly from a PC. Plus, it can download video content from YouTube and access MySpace through dedicated widgets on its 4.8-inch WVGA LCD touchscreen. It also has built-in Bluetooth, 4 GB of flash memory and two USB ports; and Clarion claims that software and upgrades for the MiND will be accessible through a dedicated Web portal.
Ford Sync 2.0
It's not hyperbole to say that Ford's Sync system has been a game-changer in car electronics. Sync easily allows near seamless and safe operation of MP3 players and Bluetooth mobile phones via voice activation. Combine this functionality with the fact that it's standard on many Ford vehicles and only a $395 option on others, and can be easily upgraded using software updates so it's not obsolete within a year. The next generation of Sync (available this spring on select new Ford and Lincoln vehicles and rolled out to the entire line in 2010) builds on that success by adding turn-by-turn navigation as well as real-time traffic that can be sent to an occupant's mobile phone and then uploaded to the Sync system. Sync 2.0 also has the ability to receive personalized information such as news, weather, sports scores, stock quotes and more. Best of all, these added services are free for the first three years with the purchase of a new car.
Almost every navigation system lets you plot the shortest and quickest route to a destination. At CES, Garmin announced a free software update called ecoRoute to help save gas and reduce emissions. Available for some of its Nuvi portables, it allows you to plot a route by "less fuel," and also includes a fuel report and mileage report to track consumption over time or on a per-trip basis. The software also lets drivers customize a Nuvi nav system to their vehicle by entering the car's fuel economy via a "vehicle profile" setting.
Griffin TuneFlex SmartClick
If your car has an aux-in jack, you can get your music pumping from an iPod or iPhone, but there's still the issue of charging and safely controlling the device while driving. Griffin's TuneFlex SmartClick ($79.99) solves both problems. A dock for the latest iPod and iPhones, it consists of a flexible and adjustable neck that lets you position your player for the best view and access to the controls, while plugging into a cigarette lighter for power. Plus, it comes with a wireless remote control that can be mounted on the steering wheel so that you never have to remove your hands for access to tunes.
Leave it to the car audio aftermarket to give you more features and performance for less money each year. Pioneer's DEH-P710BT ($340) is a single-DIN CD receiver that allows connecting an iPod to one of two USB ports. The unit can control your iPod with convenient features such as alphabet speed search, and also features iTunes tagging. Tagging lets you capture song title and artist information from RDS FM stations. So the next time you sync your iPod with a computer, the track is automatically available for purchase on iTunes. Plus, the DEH-P710BT not only has built-in Bluetooth, but it comes with an external twin-beam microphone that cuts background noise and echo effects and includes voice recognition for making and receiving calls hands-free.
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