Family Car Tech That Matters, Part Two

September 8, 2010

In part one of this two-part series we looked at family car technology that kept us safe, made driving more enjoyable, and allowed the family wheels to last longer and cost less to own. Now, let’s take a closer look at family car tech that is a bit more exciting – especially to passengers during long road trips. Specifically, let’s look at the fun stuff: technology that makes being in the car more entertaining.

Infotainment Systems and Hand-Held Devices

Today’s car, minivan, truck, SUV, or CUV doesn’t just have a stereo. Now it’s an infotainment system, a multimedia platform that tends to more than just playing tunes. According to some reports, the new push is to offer compatibility between the car’s infotainment system and hand-held devices such as MP3 players or mobile phones.

The J.D. Power and Associates’ 2010 U.S. Multimedia Quality and Satisfaction Study found that the most sought-after onboard sound system is one that can play digital music formats, such as MP3 files.

Portable device integration is probably best exemplified by Ford’s SYNC system which allows access to Twitter feeds and Internet radio service Pandora. Kia’s UVO system runs on similar Microsoft software and offers many of the same SYNC features and conveniences.

Steering Wheel-Mounted Audio Controls

Some 8 in 10 owners of new vehicles say they want steering wheel-mounted audio controls. This is one of the hottest features in new cars.

Satellite Radio and Navigation Systems

The JDPA study also found that 66 percent of vehicle owners say they have satellite radio capability in the audio systems of their new vehicles. This compares with 59 percent in 2009. In addition, 30 percent of owners say they have factory-installed navigation systems in their vehicles, up from 25 percent last year.

Speaking of navigation systems, Ford just announced that it’s tapping into the power of Wi-Fi by wirelessly sending its SYNC in-car software to cars that are being built on the assembly line. Ford says it is the first automaker to use Wi-Fi on the assembly line. The new Wi-Fi process, which takes advantage of the SYNC’s built-in Wi-Fi that the company added earlier this year, will target the 2011 Ford Edge and 2011 Lincoln MKX as the first cars to receive SYNC software wirelessly while they are being assembled.

Through the Wi-Fi connection, Ford says SYNC software options totalling as much as 300 megabytes of data can be wirelessly installed and configured, including:

  •  Addition of the SYNC app Traffic, Directions & Information (in U.S. markets)
  •  Market-appropriate languages for voice-activated commands and system prompts
  •  Option-specific graphics and icons for navigation, system information and instrument panel screens
  •  Units of measurement settings for fuel economy, speed and distance
  •  Unique color system schemes for MyFord Touch and MyLincoln Touch

In-Car DVD Entertainment Systems

Telematics Research Group forecast last year that 22 million in-car DVD systems would be entertaining people worldwide by 2010. Well, it’s 2010 now and, while we don’t have current predictions, we do know this is one feature that’s a big hit with families.

Originating in the 2002 Honda Odyssey minivan, the factory-installed in-car DVD entertainment system is now a must-have for many family cars. And they’re not all minivans, either. Beyond that, the in-car DVD entertainment systems now are available for front as well as rear-seat passengers. In the front, several navigation systems are now capable of playing DVDs – although this feature only works when the vehicle is in Park. The 2010 Mercedes-Benz S-Class, for example, offers an optional splitview front seat entertainment system.

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