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A car's a car, but the car's apps make the difference

Melissa Riofrio | Jan. 13, 2014
Car apps: In a few years, we'll wonder how we did without them, just as we have with smartphones and apps since Apple introduced the iPhone seven years ago (January 9, 2007, in fact). These apps can be used either to control basic car functions or do something while in the car, such as finding a pizza place wherever you are, or ordering the pizza.

The NEX systems are also compatible with MirrorLink, a young standard for replicating your phone's screen on your car's display that's being developed by the Car Connectivity Consortium. In addition to third-party audio manufacturers like Pioneer who want to be compatible with everything (Alpine and Panasonic are charter members), CCC's members include major smartphone (Samsung, HTC) and auto (Daimler, General Motors) manufacturers, though notably not Apple with its iPhone, nor Ford with its SYNC infotainment platform. Its latest win was Volkswagen's announcement late last year that all its mid- and high-end radios would support MirrorLink.

The future of car apps
At CES I spoke with Alan Ewing, CCC's president and executive director, about MirrorLink's progress. "The hard part is a standard for distracted driving," he said. There is no standard, but CCC's gathered the existing guidelines for the United States, the European Union, and Japan, and consulted with industry experts, to develop what Ewing calls a "harmonized" set of guidelines that will work across all those geographies. I expect to hear more about MirrorLink at Mobile World Congress next month—CCC held its first developers conference at last year's event.

In just a few years' time, car apps have sprung from nothingness to being—and more are coming. It's still too early to tell how many and in what form, and many car companies still need to join the parade. What is certain is that the cars of today and the future are no longer self-contained, hermetically sealed, rolling metal boxes. Nor can they be judged anymore solely on their horsepower and design. They are part of the Internet of Things, and their ability to move comfortably within the cloud as well as on the road is what's fascinating to me about this new era of car tech.


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