Ford  /  Wieck
Ford has confirmed the distribution and pricing strategy of Ford Sync, an advanced in-car communication and entertainment system developed in collaboration with Microsoft.
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updated 2/12/2008 1:36:03 PM ET 2008-02-12T18:36:03

No, they’re not the latest colognes. They are the names of some of the most innovative multifunctional electronic devices available for your car.

It’s no longer enough for a gadget to do just one thing well. To improve convenience and safety for drivers, the latest trend is to combine multiple functions in one compact unit. The Alpine eX-10 is an Apple iPod adapter that doubles as a Bluetooth receiver. The Kenwood DNX8120 is a navigation system that also works like a radio. And yes, it has Bluetooth too. Then there are the in-car computers that let drivers navigate, email, and store MP3s right in their center console.

Because Apple iPods have become commonplace in recent years, aftermarket accessory manufacturers have been devising ways for drivers to bring their music libraries along for the ride. The Alpine eX-10 allows drivers to play their iPods through their car speakers without using a radio transmitter or tape adapter, both of which compromise sound quality.

“The iPod is clearly the leading application for portable media player integration in cars,” said Todd Ramsey of Ramsey Consulting Group in Phoenix, Ariz. “But the industry will continue development of support for more ubiquitous USB-based devices like thumb drives, portable hard drives, and a wide range of competing portable media players.”

And with some devices, drivers can leave the iPod home. The Azentek Atlas CPC-1200 is a personal computer that’s built right into the dashboard, and with a 120-gigabyte hard drive, it can store enough music for any road trip.

Even products that have been around for a while, like radar detectors, are getting substantial updates. The Escort 9500ci is a radar detector with a built-in navigation system, so it can warn drivers about upcoming speed traps, and keep track of locations that set off detectors even though no police radar is present. “Products like the Escort 9500ci combine the functionality of a radar detector with GPS, so they are able to log speed traps,” said Richard Truesdell, automotive electronics guru and editorial director of Automotive Traveler.

For true gadget aficionados, combining two types of technology is just the start. “This is a step in the right direction, now combine all the capabilities of the 9500ci with those found in a basic personal navigation system, and you'd have a great device,” said Truesdell. “Add real-time traffic, and a full-featured MP3 player and I'll be a happy camper.”

Some may feel that navigation systems are distracting in part because of their complex controls, but new products are making wayfinding safer. They verbalize directions.

“Text-to-speech technology has become the latest buzzword in the navigation industry because of its emphasis on safety,” said Joshua Landau, president of JML Audio in St. Louis. “Since street names during guidance are spoken, the driver spends more time with their eyes on the road instead of their navigation display.”

Route guidance spoken aloud has long been a feature on the navigation systems that automakers install in their cars at the factory. But portable GPS units are starting to include this function, and the Navigon 7100 is one of them. And besides helping drivers stay focused on the pavement by announcing route directions, the Navigon 7100 offers a major advance in what is displayed on screen as well. Instead of a potentially vague overhead perspective like on traditional navigation displays, this device offers a three-dimensional street view that shows road signs and exits.

Most car controls need to be physically touched in order to be operated, which can be another distraction for drivers. But the latest gadgets are changing even that basic driver-car interaction. “Voice command is another emerging technology with emphasis on safety,” Landau said. “Instead of manually typing route guidance on a touch-screen display, address information is simply spoken while keeping both hands on the wheel and your eyes forward.”

As is the case with the verbal route guidance, luxury cars have been offering voice-command functionality for some time, but now it's trickling down to the masses. The Ford Sync and Scosche Blue Fusion both take advantage of wireless technology (like the ever-popular Bluetooth) to make operating cell phones and audio systems safer and easier. If you want to make a phone call, simply say the word. The stereo even knows to turn the volume down so you can hear the person on the other end.

The Viper Responder LE combines a remote starter with an alarm system. And if you’re warming up your car before leaving the house on a cold day, it doesn’t leave you to guess when the car is toasty. Lights on the side of the remote will signal that the car interior is at the right temperature for you.

To read more about the Viper Responder and other new car gadgets, check out the “slide show” link above written by Sean Cahill of SoundDomain.com. He selected the top 10 most intriguing devices for the list.

© 2007 ForbesAutos.com

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