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By Jerome Stuart Nichols
Technology moves fast. Car tech is moving even faster. From Bluetooth and voice commands to 17-inch touchscreens, increasingly complex in-dash “infotainment” systems are redefining what it means to be behind the wheel. For a long time, car tech meant you had a few extra speakers, automatic locks and maybe an aux jack. These days, automakers are pushing tech in ways many never conceived.
It’s nothing new for music to be a major feature in car tech. But instead of the AM/FM duopoly or XM/Sirius tragedy, users now have access to a slew of music streaming services like Zune Music Pass, Pandora, Stitcher and iHeartRadio.
On board navigation isn’t a new feature to cars either. But now that navigational powerhouses Garmin and Google Maps are available directly through your in-dash systems, figuring out which way to go isn’t so hard. Figuring out where to eat or what movie to see is much easier with large touch-screen displays and intuitive voice commands, which are paired with apps like Bing and OpenTable.
Now that smartphones are the center of most people’s digital life, car makers are adjusting to meet usage and demand. Although once a luxury add-on, the little, ultra-powerful slab silicon, glass and metal in your pocket is forcing automotive innovation and will soon be crucial to the driving experience.
“Ultimately, I think that the mobile phone is going to be at the center of the driving experience,” says Richard Read, writer for http://www.GayWheels.com. “What most auto makers seem to be doing these days is trying to figure out a consistent way to make that mobile phone central, so that you have access to all your favorite apps, all of your favorite music.”
Although apps and smartphone integration are the big trends, don’t expect to go cruising Grindr, Growlr or Scruff.
Read says, “I would be very surprised if, say, Scruff turned up on the Cadillac app system anytime soon.”
Although the lack of cruising apps – let alone games like Angry Birds, Words With Friends and Feed Me Oil – is a huge missed opportunity for automakers to corner the twink and bear markets, there is still a lot of fun to be had. Gay-friendly automakers like Ford, GM and Toyota have a plethora of options available to tech-happy car buyers.
First announced in 2007, Ford Sync is an in-car communication and entertainment system that gives users the ability to control their phone calls, navigation and music with their voice. The Sync system will also read your text-messages aloud and automatically import your phone’s address book via Bluetooth, which also allows the Sync system to act as a caller ID and call log.
Ford has this technology available on 28 of their 2013 models, including city-friendly hauler the Escape, road trip-ready Mustang and gay-popular Focus.
Former Postal Service supervisor Alen Fyfe of Ann Arbor is the proud owner of a 2012 Ford Focus and Ford Sync. He says he enjoys the GPS navigation and music options available.
“I use the satellite radio every day and the GPS feature on my MySync,” he says. “It’s great because all I have to do is activate it from the steering column and speak my requests and they are sent back almost immediately.”
Ford also offers companion technology, MyFord Touch, which expands upon Sync with touch-screen navigation and more granular controls of system functionality. Although a fan of his Sync system, Fyfe thinks his next vehicle will be a bit Touch-ier.
“I think the next car I get would be MyTouch,” he says. “The screen is bigger and does more things. In addition to directions, you can also get sports, weather, financials and more. (It’s) very easy to use and activate. I wouldn’t want to drive a car without it.”
Sync and MyFord Touch are powered by Microsoft and runs Windows Embedded Compact, formerly known as Windows CE. No, you can’t get classic games like Solitaire or Minesweeper but you do get the use of expected apps like Pandora, Stitcher and 3rd party Twitter client OpenBeak through its AppLink feature.
Sync still continues to be a popular choice but a recent break in exclusivity for the underlying Microsoft technology is allowing other car makers to jump on the “Powered by Microsoft” bandwagon. One of those being Toyota’s Entune system.
It’s based on the same technology as Ford’s Sync and Touch offerings and has most – if not all of its features – but Entune is trying to differentiate itself. With so many different technologies available, that may be difficult. But with tight integration of lifestyle services like OpenTable and http://www.MovieTickets.com, as well as contextual search services like Bing, it might be what some people are looking for.
While Sync offers some smartphone integration, Toyota pushes that idea one step further. With Entune, users have access to the aforementioned apps in their car. But, with the eponymous app for Android, iOS and Blackberry, they also have access to those in-car apps directly from their phone. This feature works without having to download any of the respective phone apps but does use your phone’s data plan.
Toyota currently offers this feature on 13 of its 2012 and 2013 models and has more coming down the pipeline.
GM’s Chevy brand is one of the few manufacturers that has chosen to forgo a partnership with Microsoft. Regardless, their new MyLink system and OnStar concierge-ish service offer a unique combination.
Although not nearly as finessed or integrated as Microsoft’s offerings, MyLink has voice controls, Pandora, XM, USB connectivity and other industry-standard features. OnStar is really where this system shines, with tons of life saving and useful features such as turn-by-turn directions, stolen vehicle assistance and automatic crash response.
While most of the spotlight features in car tech deal with entertainment, the info portion of the infotainment moniker has seen many improvements as well.
For car nerds, tinkerers or people who simply like to stay on top of their car’s health, today’s rash of sensors and digitally aided mechanics opens new avenues of insight into a car’s inner workings.