Automakers ramp up in-car technology

JoAnna Haugen

Some automotive companies are making it easier to loosen the grip on the cellphone – at least on the road.

Ten states and the District of Columbia prohibit drivers from using handheld cellphones, and 39 states and D.C. have banned texting while driving. Yet even as states are cracking down on cellphone use behind the wheel, people are relying more and more on smartphone technology.

Fortunately for tech-tied motorists, an array of automotive companies at the 2013 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) unveiled vehicles equipped with in-dash systems powered by smartphone apps and showed off enhancements to existing in-car technology.

For instance, Ford took the wraps off a new collaboration with USA Today, one of the country’s largest newspapers, as part of the automaker’s Sync AppLink system. Using voice commands, motorists can listen to USA Today content through “a hands-free, eyes-free experience.”

Another new development for Ford’s Sync AppLink is the addition of BeCouply, a voice-activated app that makes suggestions for date nights.

“While I’m no expert, it’s clear to me the car can play a critical role in the success of a burgeoning relationship,” Julius Marchwicki, global product manager for Ford’s Sync AppLink, says in a news release. “BeCouply is a terrific idea, and shows how smartphone apps can help add convenience to the driving experience using voice control through SYNC AppLink.”

More than 1 million Ford cars and trucks are equipped with Sync AppLink, which lets motorists control apps by “talking” to their vehicles. Ford rolled out its Sync “infotainment” system in 2009.

Meanwhile, Chrysler announced a new wrinkle – Uconnect Access Via Mobile – in its infotainment system. This feature, part of the Ram 1500 pickup truck and the new SRT Viper sports car, integrates Aha, iHeart Radio, Pandora and Slacker Radio apps with the vehicle’s Uconnect Access system. Content is streamed through a driver’s smartphone data plan.

Uconnect’s features can be activated by voice or with steering wheel or dashboard buttons. The system’s bells and whistles include calling capabilities for 911, customer service and roadside assistance. The system also has voice-enabled text messaging.

For its part, Chevrolet also trotted out new features for its infotainment system, MyLink. Chevy’s 2013 Spark and Sonic brands boast a smartphone feature that offers popular radio apps such as Pandora and Stitcher as well as photo and movie viewing, Bluetooth wireless phone control and voice recognition.

MyLink’s new TuneIn innovation gives customers access to “personalized infotainment controlled through the car radio,” Chevrolet says. This means, for instance, that a driver in Chicago can dial up a radio station in Africa.

MyLink-equipped Spark and Sonic models also will come with BringGo, an app-based navigation system, and Siri, the iPhone’s familiar voice guide.

MyLink is standard on the 2013 Spark LT and Sonic RS and LTZ models. It’s also available on the 2013 Sonic LS and LT. MyLink will be standard on Chevy’s 2014 Spark electric car when it goes on sale in the summer of 2013.

“MyLink makes connectivity easier,” says Kristin Bauer, an OnStar product specialist who was working at Chevrolet’s CES exhibit. “It provides all the phone capabilities you might want while driving without having to hold your phone, which makes it much safer for everyone on the road.”

 

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