Sound Future For In Car Infotainment?
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In car navigation and entertainment systems are getting ever more sophisticated, and distracting for drivers. But how far can the connected revolution for in-car entertainment and navigation go?

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While integrated hard disk drives are disappearing from cars, the days for optical drives for CD and DVD are also numbered, according to research firm iSupply, in favour of digital in-car systems, devices like smartphones, and playing music off a USB or SD card. 

Its predictions that iPads will also make their way into in-car infotainment as a backseat entertainment unit have already been realised by Range Rover, although a visit to any car forum on the net will show that there are several fanatics who have also included iPads on their dashboards.

But what of the safety concerns? The Federal Government is currently investigating safety initiatives governing smartphones, navigation and other technology in cars following research released by the NSW Police and the RTA that revealed that up to 30% of people involved in accidents had been talking on a mobile phone or were sending a  text message while driving.

“Road Safety is a very emotive issue,” said Graeme Redman, managing director of digital radio manufacturer, Pure Australasia. “If the traffic authorities have anything to do with it, it will be banned altogether.” 

Last week, BMW became the first to offer digital radio as an add-on in their Series 5, 6 and 7 in Australia, with several other audio firms waiting in the wings to launch new products. 

Speaking at the launch of a new subscription music service available to digital radio users, Redman said: “The problem is that drivers cannot manage the level of distractions they are subjected to yet. But, where safety is a concern, there may be moves to disable the information displays and still enable systems to play digital radio in the car,” he said. 


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Orion has recently released an all-in-one system that packs navigation, safety, hands-free calling and multimedia into one in-car receiver. The AVR6.1 is a good example of what infotainment systems can offer today.

With Australia gradually tuning into digital radio, at least in the capital cities, a DAB+ receiver comes standard in the unit. DVD and CD readers are part of the package, but are overshadowed by digital media inputs like SD, USB, Aux and Bluetooth.

Some of the staples of modern in-car entertainment systems include Bluetooth connectivity for mobile phone integration and navigation options in tow. Motorola is taking these utilities and integrating them with its smartphones and the car dashboard.

“Motorola has released its first generation of in-car entertainment products that compliment handsets,” said Angela Menabue, Motorola’s Business Manager for Companion Products.

The In-Car Defy dock and Milestone2 docks integrate smartphone functionality to the (almost) hands-free entertainment experience.

The Defy dock plugs a Motorola Defy into the car’s entertainment system with a clean, six button interface that stores everything from widgets and apps to navigation and entertainment.

“It’s part of Motorola’s vision to create greater ecosystems, and we’ll see more of this with future products,” Menabue added.


Throwing apps into the equation, just like smartphones and tablets, also looks to be part of the future of in-car infotainment systems, and the companies involved are already seeing growth.

“We’re seeing a lot more apps being developed by third parties and people like Google. There’s the MotoSpeak app for in-car systems, for instance, that’s made specifically by Motorola.”

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The Asteroid, from Parrot is due in Australia around July/August

Parrot has taken this straight into the in-built car receiver with its Asteroid platform that integrates web apps and hands-free calling into a typical music player-style fixture.

“We’re also looking to add text-to-speech later this year so you can do things like dictate text for SMS,” said Peter George, Parrot’s Country Manager for Australia.

Parrot anticipates a launch of Asteroid around the July/August mark in Australia, bringing with it a slew of apps like Google maps, internet radio options, navigation and even services like Skype, though “that’s just the beginning,” according to Peter.

While entertainment fixtures in cars are getting an upgrade, GPS units are also upgrading and tailoring themselves to the connected user.

Marketing Manager for TomTom’s Asia Pacific unit, Nick Saisanas said that the in-car device market would probably see a move toward connected devices with dynamic content like sending traffic information to and from navigators.

He points to a move from solely GPS to integrating GPRS – the difference being that GPRS is a data service technology that allows information to be sent from the device. 


TomTom currently uses iQ Routes as a traffic condition notifier on its GPS units, but this software is based on historical data. What GPRS integration does is add the ability to send traffic data from the navigator so that everyone can have access to up-to-date traffic information.

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Garmin uses an FM traffic subscription service to get data from an FM traffic antenna.

Garmin currently uses an FM traffic subscription service that allows compatible devices to get traffic data from an FM traffic antenna/receiver.

GPS companies are finding that their devices are changing to suit the style and functionality of a smartphone to stay ahead on the market. This means more functionality on a thinner unit with a bigger screen.

“With everyone having a smartphone or iPhone, [GPS] units are getting slimmer and we’re adding dual orientation like a smartphone,” said Ian Edwards, National Sales Manager at Garmin.

Apps jumping into the driver’s seat are extending into GPS navigation, with the big companies hopping onto the smartphone and tablet bandwagon.

TomTom’s Nick Saisanas said that while the TomTom iPhone app was not garnering very large revenue compared to the main GPS devices, it was seeing growth.