Move over, smartphone -- the car is getting smarter

Siri Eyes Free, App Radio 3, and Automatic Link are all finally making the car as smart as your iPhone

In 1930, Motorola delivered one of the first mobile apps: the car stereo. The device put the young electronics company on the map, and it defined the car as more than a transporation device. But not much has changed since then -- car stereos are still basically about playing music -- even as people have turned the car into a workspace through the use of Bluetooth earbuds for making calls and smartphones for navigation and other information. No, you shouldn't use a smartphone while driving, but nearly all of us do because we have no other conduit.

Today, the car is on the verge of becoming that new conduit, as the classical car stereo finally gives way to a smart car control center. This year, two pieces of gear herald that shift. One is the Pioneer AppRadio 3, and the other is the Automatic Link. They're first steps to your car becoming part of your work and communications environment. We should be glad Google is trying to create a car that drives itself, given all the other things we'll be able to do in a car!

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Integrating the smartphone into your car's console is one of those "duh" moves that for whatever reason the automobile and tech industries have been slow to execute. Granted, "slow" is a relative term -- the iPhone is just six years old, the iPad is three, and capable Android devices are two. Carmakers have always been slow to adopt new technologies, such as CD players and digital radio, out of fear of adopting a faddish tech that ends up in a vehicle people keep for a decade. Additionally, there are legitimate concerns over creating information consoles in cars that would lead to more accidents and deaths due to greater distraction while driving. When the carmakers have adopted information-hub tech, the resulting products have been poor.

A step toward merging your smartphone and car stereo
But we all know the car will become an information hub. So far it's been informal, with people mounting smartphones and even tablets on their dashboards or simply propping them up in cup holders and consoles. When devices like Google Glass get real, the distraction genie will be permanently out of the bottle.

Most carmakers have agreed to incorporate Apple's Siri Eyes Free technology, which basically uses the speakers and microphone in cars as the conduit for Siri on your iPhone to make calls, read and compose messages, navigate, and yes, play music. Few carmakers have followed up so far, but it's obvious that this approach will become normal in cars soon, whether using Siri or Google's Voice Search, as the latter evolves to be more than a search tool.

Pioneer's $500 AppRadio 3 uses Siri Eyes Free, and it supports Google's Voice Search, creating the integration between stereo and smartphone that has been so clearly missing. The AppRadio 3 is a replacement stereo (a double-DIN model, due to its 7-inch touchscreen), so it will bring older cars into the new mobile era.

Its two previous versions were not so great, with basic music playback, a handful of fairly weak custom apps, and the solid Waze navigation app. You really couldn't use an earlier AppRadio instead of your smartphone. From early accounts (the device won't ship till summer), the AppRadio 3 still can't replace your iPhone, but it bridges the stereo/smartphone divide much better. (Android support beyond music playback and making calls remains very limited.)

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