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Carmakers let app developers drive innovation

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 10, 2013 at 11:17 pm •  Published: January 10, 2013
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When it comes to integrating new driver-friendly advancements, American automakers are playing catch-up to their Asian counterparts.

Hyundai's Blue Link technology syncs with iPhones and Android devices already and allows users to check their car's maintenance data like tire pressure, fluids and the condition of airbags on their mobile devices. The service debuted in 2011 on its Sonata and is expanding to a wider range of vehicles. Voice-activated control of third-party music apps isn't integrated yet, but the company is exploring using Google's Android software to do so.

Toyota's use of voice is the most advanced of the auto providers, even though it had nothing new to show at this year's CES.

When it upgraded its Entune service for Toyota cars and Enform for its Lexus line at CES last year, drivers got the ability to use their voice to control several key apps, allowing them to say, for example, "Adele" to the iHeart Radio or Pandora app to create a custom station with tracks from the British singer and others who sound similar.

Voice commands also worked to buy movie tickets, make restaurant reservations through the OpenTable app and get turn-by-turn navigation towards cheap gas.

Both Toyota's and Hyundai's systems require yearly subscription fees after free trial periods.

On Chrysler's Ram 1500 truck introduced at the gadget show this year, iHeart Radio was added as an application. Users who link their smartphones to the car can select from customized stations they've made already but aren't able to create new ones by voice. That is not likely to be a barrier for long, said Brian Lakamp, president of iHeart parent Clear Channel Digital.

"Voice activation — it's a trend and it's going to get more and more sophisticated over time," Lakamp said. "We'll be lock-step when they're taking advantage of voice to the extent they can."

The truck also includes the option of using a 3G cellular phone chip inside the vehicle itself to become a Wi-Fi hotspot for $15 a day. That could be an attractive feature for people who might want to use the truck for a tail-gate party.

And one small company called Livio was looking to drum up some business from radio stations and automakers with a prototype for embedding tiny codes inside traditional FM radio streams. The codes would allow cellphone users to respond to advertisements with a tap on their smartphone screen. The technology could one day enable companies to send coupons through traditional FM radio stations to drivers who let them know they're interested.

The Livio Connect system "opens FM radio to two-way communication," said marketing director Nicole Yelland. "No longer is it shouting at you. There's a dialogue."

Given that Google, Toyota and others have been testing driverless cars, it's not hard to imagine the day when your smartphone will hear your stomach gurgle, get Burger King to send you a coupon, and then guide the car up to the drive-thru window for a quick bite.