Car Tech Romances the Screen at CES 2010

Suddenly car makers and car tech vendors are scrambling to bring the luxuries of smartphones to your dashboard, with big, touchable screens to provide multimedia options and GPS navigation. Some companies have embraced the smartphone itself as a tool to aid your travels. Here are some of the big trends and notable products in car tech at CES 2010.

The Connected Car

The main attraction of Ford's MyTouch platform, due to appear in the 2011 Ford Edge, is an 8-inch touch screen in the center of the dashboard. All the car's multimedia, climate, and navigation controls live here, but the really cool stuff happens when you plug in a 3G modem and connect to the Internet.

The Jolly Green Driver, Part 1

Garmin's EcoRoute HD, available in March for $150, connects compatible Nüvi GPS devices to the car's on board diagnostics. This can be used to monitor a car's vitals, but more importantly, users can improve their fuel efficiency with a scoreboard that monitors driving habits such as braking and acceleration.

The Jolly Green Driver, Part 2

For those who care so deeply about fuel efficiency that they buy a Chevy Volt electric car later this year, there's OnStar Mobile Experience, a free app for the iPhone, Droid and Blackberry Storm. It lets users check battery capacity, lock and unlock their doors and set charging times based on the electric company's off-peak hours.

When a DVD Isn't Enough

Audiovox is the exclusive seller of car video players with FLO TV, a live mobile television service whose content providers include CBS, NBC, Comedy Central, and Nickelodeon. Select car dealers started including the DTV players last month, and you'll soon be able get one custom installed at retail.

Pandora Everywhere

Alpine's iDA-X305S is one of several car audio solutions that let you control Pandora from the dashboard as it runs on your iPhone. This is a short-term goal for the Internet radio service, which eventually wants to be integrated directly into car stereos.

Nanny Car Tech

Sometimes the urge to check e-mail in traffic is too great for fragile wills. Enter ZoomSafer, a $3 per month or $25 forever Blackberry app that locks the keys once your car hits 15 miles per hour. It also auto-responds to incoming calls and texts to say that you're driving. A Windows Mobile version is in beta and an Android version is coming later this year.

Paying For Traffic Reports? Yeah Right.

Some GPS makers will charge you monthly for the privilege of traffic information, but others are bucking the trend with free traffic reports via HD radio (delivered as data, not like the kind of reports you hear on AM radio). JVC's KW-NT3HDT (pictured) and Cydle's T43H both debuted at CES.

The App Craze Spills Over

For another take on the connected car, see Visteon, a dashboard entertainment system OEM that's showing off several Web-enabled apps that users could install on the dashboards of the future. Among them are live traffic cams, VoIP and Internet radio.

The Lowly GPS

Dedicated car GPS devices have had a terrible showing at CES this year. The only new product announcement from the major companies was TomTom's Ease, a stripped-down device intended for people who previously avoided GPS entirely. A Garmin representative told me there's more in store for Mobile World Congress next month, but why the wait?

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