Engadget's CES 2013 Preview: Autos

Tim Stevens
T. Stevens|12.12.12

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Engadget's CES 2013 Preview: Autos

With CES looming like an electrically charged storm of news and announcements, it's time for us to give you our best bets on what you'll see come January. During the month of December, we'll bring you a series of CES preview posts, forecasting what you can expect when the news deluge begins. For more of what's to come, check out our hub.

Engadget's CES 2013 Preview Autos

We love CES for many things, but primarily we're there for the gadgets -- the phones, the tablets, the laptops and even the HDTVS, plus all the random stuff we find on the show floor that defies polite categorization. Lately, though, we've come more and more to love CES for something else: cars. It's become a bit of a must-attend event for auto lovers too, with more and more major manufacturers showing up each year, rolling out their high-tech wares to show the industry just how well they're keeping in touch with the broader world of tech.

That auto-related tech can usually be broadly split into two general categories: technology that helps the car go somewhere and technology that makes its interior a better place to be while getting there. In the first category we're largely dealing with cars that are, in some way or another, powered by electricity, with the biggest example in the past being the Ford Focus Electric, which debuted at the show two years ago.

These days, EVs are far more common and so the story has turned to the details of living with the things. In 2013, we'll surely see a few new chargers, including, I hope, some production-ready induction units that would let you juice up your ride without having to drag a thick, heavy, filthy cable out of the trunk every time.

But it's in the other category of innovation, that containing the creature comforts of a modern car, where we're likely to see the most innovation at the show. Today's auto interiors are riddled with technology, festooned with LCDs and feature high-resolution cameras, gesture detection and capacitive touch with haptic feedback. Yet despite this, manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the broader mobile device industry.

To get some help on this front, automakers are beginning to open things up a bit. This January, we'll see a focus on in-car apps. Multiple manufacturers have told us that they'll be launching initiatives in 2013 to enlist the help of outside developers and, while we're still a long way from a truly open source car, expect some auto-related APIs to launch at CES. This should, finally, help to push the selection of apps available to run in cars. Pandora has long been the poster child of in-car compatibility, able to run on nearly every smart car platform known to man -- even quite a few that could only be called moderately intelligent.

As the selection of apps expands, smartphone integration will likewise spread, bigger than ever. Apple announced its in-car, Eyes Free version of Siri last June and nearly every major manufacturer has shown a willingness to support it. We'll see many deliver on that in 2013.

Finally, expect to see some production-ready 4G cars. Today, even the fastest of fast four-wheeled machines only connect to the world at large over 3G, another sign of the auto industry struggling to keep up with the world of consumer electronics. In years past, manufacturers like Audi and Nissan have shown concept LTE-enabled cars. This time we'll see some ready to hit the road.

While it's no SEMA (the Specialty Equipment Market Association that throws a show for auto tuners at the the Las Vegas Convention Center each fall), CES continues to make a mark on the greater world of transportation, and 2013 will further that trend. It isn't just a show for gadgets anymore -- unless, of course, you consider cars to be gadgets, which honestly isn't that much of a stretch these days.

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