Car companies revving up ‘connected’ experience

Jan 4, 2011
Tech

Get ready for what could be the next frontier in automobiles: apps and smartphone connectivity. This week is the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, and while the actual convention doesn’t start until Thursday, early events today are already providing companies with the chance to announce cool new things. This morning, Toyota (TM) announced […]

Get ready for what could be the next frontier in automobiles: apps and smartphone connectivity.

This week is the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, and while the actual convention doesn’t start until Thursday, early events today are already providing companies with the chance to announce cool new things. This morning, Toyota (TM) announced the addition of a Pandora Internet radio app to the Entune Multimedia System in some of its new cars.

The Entune system is Toyota’s answer to Ford’s (F) SYNC, and they do a lot of the same things. Each platform allows drivers to use voice commands to control things like radio and turn-by-turn navigation apps. Entune features a touchscreen mounted on the car’s dashboard, and will also include several other apps, such as OpenTable, iheartradio, MovieTickets.com and Bing. Like Sync and other systems like Lexus’ Enform, Entune is integrated with the car’s navigation system, so you can access directions and traffic information, as well.

In addition to getting apps in your car, Toyota and Ford both are putting out mobile apps to integrate with their car systems. Ford’s SYNC Destinations was released right before the start of 2011 and allows iPhone users to access the SYNC servers to check things like traffic and plot routes before even getting into the car. It also uses the system to provide turn-by-turn directions in the iPhone app, giving you the benefit of your SYNC system even when you’re in a car that doesn’t use it.

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Toyota’s Entune app isn’t out yet (and neither is Entune — not until later this year), but it seems Entune owners will need to have a smartphone to use the apps in the car, and the smartphone app itself will be required as well. The Entune app will be available on iPhone, Android and BlackBerry OS phones, and when it pairs with the car, it’ll enable the app services found there. It’s probably safe to assume that as Toyota adds more potential apps, its Entune smartphone app will allow for customization and basically serve as the setup interface to make sure things like Pandora are tuned to the user’s profile.

Other makers want a piece of the action too

Toyota and Ford are definitely not the only car companies looking at putting touch displays and in-car computer systems into their vehicles (BMW (BMW.F) and Tesla both are signing up to use NVIDIA (NVDA) tech in theirs) chips, but they do seem to be the front runners of bringing connectivity between cars and phones. With CES this week, it’s not much of a stretch to assume we might be hearing even more cool announcements about what phones, cars, apps and the Internet can do together.

And even better, it does seem like the extra couple of hundred bucks most of us dropped on smartphones was a worthy investment — before long, maybe you can use your phone to start your car on a cold day, or cover it in impenetrable metal plates instantly to prevent theft, like Batman could with his car.

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Maybe I’m the only one whose dream is to have that last one.

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Phil Hornshaw

Phil Hornshaw is a freelance writer, editor and author living in Los Angeles, dividing his time between playing video games, playing video games on his cell phone, and writing about playing video games. He’s also the co-author of So You Created a Wormhole: The Time Traveler’s Guide to Time Travel, which attempts to mix time travel pop culture with some semblance of science, as well as tips on the appropriate means of riding dinosaurs. Check out his profile.

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