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iPhones will play a big part in the upcoming automotive revolution

Mel Martin

I just spent a few days in San Francisco attending a conference sponsored by Telenav, one of the leaders in navigation and services in both the automotive and smartphone worlds.

Much of what is discussed at these kinds of get-togethers is off the record, giving reporters a sneak peek at upcoming technology. One session that was on-the-record was a panel of industry experts on the future of electronics, particularly navigation in cars.

I think this panel pointed the way to what we will be seeing in future years, and hints at how important the iPhone will be. There was input from people at Ford, Delphi, Nuance, Gracenote and, of course, Telenav.

One thing that emerged rather starkly is a general belief that built-in navigation systems in cars are fast diminishing in popularity. It is so easy to add free or low-cost navigation by using your iPhone or other smartphone that more and more buyers can't justify the cost a built-in system.

Built-in prices are dropping, but they will never get as low as the smartphone solution, and those manufacturer-provided nav systems don't update nearly as often as your iPhone apps. Of course, fiddling with your phone to set up trips can be a real safety issue when driving. The iPhone screen is smaller than a car display, and as a result, it requires more attention.

That's why we're seeing more apps controlled completely by voice, both for ease of use and safety. Apple's Siri / Maps and Google's Maps are both natural navigation companions for voice, while manufacturers like Ford have gone voice-controlled in a big way for phone / car communication. Many states, like California, are mandating that you can't even touch your phones while driving. More states will follow.

The natural evolution of all this is to somehow get the iPhone screen to the big screen in the car, something we saw from Telenav late last year. Telenav's Scout app mates with Ford Sync via a Bluetooth or USB connection; drivers can access local search, gas prices and directions on the car screen.

The logical extension is that someday in the future, perhaps, your iPhone will activate the screens in any car and transfer your personal info, destinations and other items right to the car screen. For safety, all this must be voice-enabled. Brian Radloff was on hand from Nuance (developers of Dragon for Mac and Dragon Dictate for iOS) to say that he saw the future as more personalization in cars, as the vehicle becomes more integrated into each individual's lifestyle.

That was echoed by Harris Warren of Telenav, who expects to see the addition of real personalization to the driving experience. The car will become more of a consumer experience than just a way to get you from point A to point B. That means help finding relevant shopping and recreation destinations, and the further integration of both incoming and outgoing messaging.

Most of the experts on the panel said that cars are rapidly moving from closed environments to open ones, accepting more outside software and the easy plug-in of hardware. Even today, there is hardly a car being offered that doesn't support Apple connectors for iPods and / or iPhones. Of course, the industry representatives were also not happy with the new iPhone 5 connector, that left the industry and consumers stuck with some non-working ports or buying more cables.

In fact, the industry leaders, like John Absmeier of Delphi, expect that soon there will be seamless connectivity between your car, your house and your devices. It's also clear that the iPhone will be key to this transition. Many of these automation and automotive apps come out for the iPhone first, then slowly migrate to Android.

It's pretty clear the car cockpit will change pretty radically in the coming years, with Apple playing an important part in that evolution. That should be exciting.

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