If you thought the SEMA Show in Las Vegas was something to behold, think again. The official King of Conventions is without a doubt the annual Consumer Electronics Show held every January in the Las Vegas Convention Center. Over the course of four days, CES attracts over 153,000 visitors who are hoping to get a sneak peek at the latest and greatest from more than 3100 exhibiting companies. From stereos to monitors, cameras to computers, tablets to phones, CES has it all.
For the last five years, the number of automakers in attendance has steadily grown. Why? Because consumer electronics and automobiles go hand-in-hand. To put it another way, all of the technology found in your car today was at one time closely related to a product that was previously showcased at CES.
So without further delay, here are a few of the coolest, most innovative, car-specific products we came across during our stay in Sin City.
NPR Launches Ford Sync AppLink News App, First for Major News Outlet
National Public Radio and Ford recently revealed their first digital progeny that aims to ease news gathering for Ford Sync AppLink users. It's AppLink's first dedicated news application to come from a major news outlet.
As you may know, Sync is a voice-interactive system that allows for the controlling of various vehicle, phone, and music device functions via simple audible commands and buttons mounted on the steering wheel. Nowadays, it's found on 90% of all Ford vehicles, and for most buyers, it's a free amenity.
Late last year, engineers introduced AppLink for 2011 Fiesta owners which uses Sync to interface and control vehicle-tailored apps that reside on a mobile smartphone. (Nowadays, AppLink can be had on new 2012 Fiesta, Mustang, Fusion, Expedition, Super Duty, and F-150 models.) Have AppLink installed on a phone and users can play their favorite Pandora radio station or hear their friends' latest tweets through Oragatame OpenBeak.
AppLink's app portfolio only grows stronger with NPR's involvement, explained Doug VanDagens, Ford's global director of connected services. It's proof-positive of how an organization can successfully use Ford's Sync API to create a free, interactive, safe, and useful app in a short amount of time -- four weeks to be exact.
"What I'm most excited about is that we're taking what all of you have experienced on your smartphones, and have turned it into a personalized experience where you can get the data, the content, and the programming that you want at your fingertips," VanDagens said.
"Heretofore, if you think about it, with your FM radio and satellite radio, it's one to many; you don't have a choice. You've got to scroll through all kinds of stations, all kinds of programming options to find what you want. Now if you tune to NPR, you've got what is a consumer electronics smartphone experience with the world's best content brought into the vehicle for you."
So what can users expect? For starters, users will be able to listen to news on their own schedule, so instances of staying in a parked car just to catch a program's ending will be things of the past. Listeners can build playlists of specific topics like sports, science, money, etc. (so far there are 20 topics) and 25 programs like Car Talk or All Things Considered. They can also designate favorites among the hundreds of NPR member stations around the country, so both national and local news are on-demand whenever desired.
The NPR app for Ford Sync AppLink is now available for download at Blackberry, iPhone, and Android marketplaces. VanDagens revealed that retrofit kits for pre-model year 2012 vehicles will be available soon, but he didn't have an exact timeframe or price point to give. Regardless, we like what we see, and given the relatively easy process for developers to create car-specific versions of their apps, we can't wait to see what else is in store for AppLink.
Subaru Reveals Own Cloud-Based Infotainment System with Aha
Subaru is the latest automaker to debut a cloud-based infotainment system at CES this year. Co-developed with Aha by Harmon, it's focused on giving owners a safe means to get their pertinent music, news, traffic, and social media fixes all on the go. As for the first vehicle to get the spiffy new stereo, well, that's still to be determined, Subaru says.
Like Ford's AppLink and GM's revamped OnStar, Subaru's Aha-based setup brings web-based, smartphone-residing content into the cockpit. Drivers will initially be able to access a variety of apps such as MOG, Rhapsody, Shoutcast, CBS Radio, Slacker, and NPR, as well as numerous traffic, social, e-book, and destination-oriented content. Of course, the list will grow as Aha integrates its cloud based platform with other third-party content providers.
Subaru says the system will be included with the optional stereo system on all future models and as of now, is only compatible with the iPhone's iOS. Android users will have to wait a little bit longer for their versions to arrive. Expect the platform's implementation to come soon.
Kia's UVO 2 System Packs More Features, Easier User Interactivity
Since Kia debuted its first UVO infotainment system two years ago, we've had some mixed feelings about the technology. Though the system performed decently during its first generation run, mediocrity isn't good enough for Kia, so the automaker has revealed a new and improved version -- aptly called UVO 2 -- at this year's CES Show.
UVO 2 sports a litany of new features informing and entertaining drivers. You first notice the brilliant and highly responsive 4.3-inch full color TFT touch screen located in the dash's center. Pertinent media buttons are to the left of the display, while eServices, Phone, and Setup buttons to the right.
It's the eServices button that is of great interest, however, as it offers drivers 14 convenient services. Among them: Crash Notification Assist, Roadside Assist, Automatic Diagnostics, Manual Diagnostics, Maintenance, Owner's Guide, Driving Info, Send2Car (for point of interest navigation), Curfew Limit, Speed Alert, Geo Fensing, Car Care Web, and Park Assist.
While we only got to play with a few of the prototype's functions, the future of UVO looks bright, not to mention easily usable and efficient. Speaking of the future, like the German automakers in attendance (Audi and Mercedes-Benz), Kia also debuted a concept of what it believes will become of the cockpit.
Called the IVI concept, or In-Vehicle Infotainment concept, it employs a massive 10.1-inch located atop the dash and another 11.6-inch wide screen located within it -- in this case, inside of the Naimo EV crossover. According to Kia, the system seamlessly connects to tablets and smartphones, offers full connectivity to social, news, point-of-interest sites and applications, and uses the latest in augmented reality navigation. Devices can be charged wirelessly, too.
Along with IVI, Kia revealed its User-Centered Driving (UCD) concept. A full-color head-up display and 12.3-inch TFT-LCD cluster keep the driver informed and correctly on course in style. There's a HMI (human-machine interface) haptic steering wheel switch to control both displays, a driver state monitoring system to safeguard against distraction or drowsiness, and a night vision mode to ensure safer driving when the sun goes down.
Logic3, Ferrari Create Premium Speakers for Discerning Audiophiles
Away from the busyness of winning Formula 1 races and crafting of some of the most sought-after sports cars on the planet, Ferrari has made a name for itself as a mastermind of consumer product partnerships. From shirts to computers, to ballpoint pens and boat shoes, Ferrari's marketing and licensing teams have put their "cavallino rampante" on nearly anything and everything you could think of. That is, except a major lineup of audio devices.
Today in Las Vegas, Ferrari and Logic3, one of Europe's premier audio device makers, announced their collaboration on a range of music-bumping speakers and headphones built with Ferrari's commitment to design, high-quality craftsmanship, and exclusivity in mind.
The range consists of two collections, the Ferrari Cavallino and the Scuderia Ferrari. The former, crafted with sumptuous materials and a focus of classic Ferrari design, is made up of two speaker systems and four headphone models (over-ear, on-ear, and in-ear setups). The edgier, racing-inspired Scuderia range also has two speaker systems but offers one more headphone model.
If you're thinking Logic3 simply pasted on a bucking bronco and called it a day, you'd be wrong. Ferrrari's designers and marketing mavens, Logic3 says, were involved at all stages of the creative process. Manufacturing the pieces necessitated bespoke methods as well. And to get that cavallino just right, Logic3 designers were given access to the badge's exact dimensions direct from Maranello. Technologically speaking, the products sport some impressive specifications like Thin Film Acoustic Technology (TFAT) and Active Noise Cancelling (ANA) in headphones and Class HD tech on speaker docks.
Logic3 officials were mum on what this tech partnership does to Ferrari's current Acer or Meridian Speakers collaborations (if anything at all), or if Logic3 will be included somehow in future road machines. But what we do know is that we need to get our hands on a few test pairs as soon as possible. And as for the cost of listening to music like an Italian boss, the headphones and speakers start at $125 and $500, respectively.