The Connected Car: Your next mobile device

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If you thought talking on the phone hands free in your car was cool, brace yourself for what’s next. Your next car will be smart and connected–empowering safer driving and greater efficiency, serving up dynamic and interactive infotainment, and even be context-aware, automatically adjusting to your cockpit preferences.

Connected cars will access, consume, direct and share digital information between infrastructures, people, organizations and other mobile devices. As vehicles and devices are increasingly linked, they become intelligent, self-aware and eventually autonomous (you’ve heard about the self-driving car?). The connected car will be an extension of your smartphone, yet another mobile device (ok, a really, really big one) that will broaden your experiences and improve your ride.

Our appetites to be always-on is driving the demand for this connectivity, and the innovation, the investments and the partner deals are aligning to make it happen. The Consumer Electronics Association forecasts the market for factory-installed tech features in vehicles will grow 11 percent this year alone, to $8.7 billion. Big name automakers are placing bets on mobile devices and applications to fuel connectivity capabilities, making it easier for existing apps to talk to vehicles.

At CES, automakers showed how they’re leveraging smartphone features and services so that motorists will soon be able to control their in-vehicle experiences for both drivers and passengers, making the car more intuitive, enjoyable and safe. Mobile devices won’t just unlock the door and start the ignition, they’ll alert drivers if their vehicles have been hit or tampered with while parked, prove a safe track record to insurance companies, prepare drivers for a sharp turn ahead, and entertain the kids so that the words “are we there yet?” may never be heard again.

Advancing mobile connectivity

To ensure that smartphones from all manufacturers integrate with cars and to drive globalhtc car     in-vehicle innovation solutions forward faster, automakers, smartphone vendors and makers of display technologies formed the Car Connectivity Consortium (CCC). At CES, the consortium introduced MirrorLink, a technology standard for connecting smartphones to steering wheel controls, dashboard buttons and in-dash display screens. With this standard in place, the CCC is ready to turn its full attention to mobile app developers in an effort to saturate the global marketplace with MirrorLink-enabled apps.

“This is an incredibly exciting time in MirrorLink’s history because by the end of Q3, we’ll start to see an exponential rise in MirrorLink-certified apps,” said Jörg Brakensiek, chairman of the CCC’s Technical Workgroup in a press release. “The sooner this takes place, the sooner we’ll see more consumers with their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road.”

Nearly 70 percent of the world’s smartphone vendors, including Samsung, HTC and Nokia (though notably not Apple), and 80 percent of global automakers, including BMW, Ford, GM, Mercedes, Toyota, and Volkswagen are involved with the CCC to optimize the in-car experience. Though most apps are designed initially as lifestyle enhancements, eventually there will be features that access a vehicle’s driving frameworks, keep tabs on a car’s systems and maintenance needs, or monitor a driver’s acceleration habits and following distances, among other things.

Moving car apps forward

ford syncValidating this initiative, Ford and GM both announced developer programs for their in-car software platforms at CES, taking cues from the smartphone ecosystem for the dashboard and encourage independent app development for their cars. Ford is opening its existing and well-received SYNC connectivity and AppLink systems to interested mobile developers, while GM is allowing access to its platforms, including its OnStar In-Vehicle infotainment systems.

“When we first introduced SYNC in 2007, there was a need for an appropriate way to connect and control cellphones and digital music players in the car due to the massive consumer adoption trend,” said Ford’s VP of Engineering, Hau Thai-Tang, in a press release. “Now, with an even faster adoption rate of smartphones, there is a need for a renewed focus on voice control for the unique capabilities of these devices, especially for the use of apps.”

Rest assured that both car manufacturers and developers are focused on safety, so you won’t see mobile apps that involve distracting videos, games or excessive texts. They expect to see apps that alert drivers to, and direct them from, dangers that can’t be seen and communicate among moving cars to prevent them from colliding.

A car paired with your smartphone and filled with easy-to-use but not-too-distracting apps is where we’re headed, and you can get a preview of sorts with apps available today.

  • Aha Radio: Organizes your favorite Internet content, including radio channels, news, music, audio books, social media feeds and pod casts. Available for Android in select Acura, Ford, Honda, and Subaru vehicles and leading car stereos.
  • BeCouply: Suggests date ideas and directs couples to their destinations with turn-by-turn navigation. Available only for iOS (for now, but Android app soon) and select Ford vehicles equipped with SYNC AppLink, including Mustang, Fiesta, F-150 and Expedition.
  • BringGo: Provides full-function navigation, including turn-by-turn directions. Available in future versions of the Chevrolet Spark and Sonic vehicles.
  • Glympse: Allows drivers to share their location information with family and friends via email, SMS, Facebook or Twitter using voice commands. Available for Android and Windows phone in select Ford vehicles equipped with SYNC AppLink.
  • Greater Media: Listen to live streams of favorite radio stations from around the United States. Available for select Ford vehicles equipped with SYNC AppLink.
  • Inrix Inc.: A global parking navigation service that goes beyond standard points-of-interest notifications to provide the current cost to park, detailed parking location information and real-time space availability. Available in North America and 36 countries throughout Europe for Android and Windows Phones.
  • Kaliki: Radio talent reads audio versions of the most compelling articles from a variety of magazines and newspapers, including Shape Magazine, TV Guide, Men’s Fitness, OK! and Agence France-Presse. App is free and available for Ford vehicles equipped with SYNC AppLink.
  • OnStar: Provides real-time information from the car, including automatic crash response, navigation, roadside assistance, hands-free calling, remotely lock or unlock the car, vehicle telemetrics, gas mileage, tire pressure, and a wide variety of other services. Available for Android and more than 30 GM vehicle models.
  • Pandora: A free, personalized radio that plays music, news and comedy you want, creating customized play lists and radio stations based on what you like. Available for Android and most leading, late model car manufactures.
  • Parkopedia: Provides information on nearby parking garages, including pricing and real-time space availability, as well as navigation. Available in more than 40 countries, the app supports Android and Windows Phones.
  • Rhapsody: Lets drivers access songs through their phones, listen to any of the service’s 16 million titles without a connection by downloading a playlist to a mobile device accessible through the car. Available for Android and Windows Phone for Ford vehicles equipped with Sync AppLink

These apps are just a taste of what’s ahead of us. What are you looking forward to most? I can’t wait for my car to become a hot spot.

 

*Portions of this story were first published for myHTC

Black Friday: Don’t Leave Home Without One of These Android Apps

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a holiday tradition in the United States. Every year, the Friday after Thanksgiving, brave souls wake to their alarm clocks as early as 3:00 a.m., slip into something comfortable, brush their teeth and, still half asleep, drive to the retailer of choice to stand in line with other shoppers waiting for the doors to open in the wee hours of the morning. When they do, the race is on for that one product, often in very limited quantities, that the retailer has discounted deeply to get shoppers into the store.

We call this Black Friday, opening day for the holiday shopping season, when retailers count on sales to move them from, in accounting terms, the red to black, with the hope of posting a profit by year end. Black Friday is not for the faint of heart. It’s only for those who possess that rare shopping gene, which boosts shopping stamina and strategies to save big money.

On Black Friday, retailers open early, usually before dawn and sometimes even on Thanksgiving evening, as shoppers line up overnight to save hundreds on everything from apparel to electronics, particularly HDTVs, smartphones, tablets and computers.

In years past, this might have meant thumbing through the weekly circulars and braving the shopping mall stampedes. But these days, mobile apps are changing the game. Shopping apps, some specific to Black Friday, leveraging hardware features like cameras, GPS, NFC and 4G found in modern smartphones, you can find the best deals near you, create shopping lists while on the move, and plan for Black Friday shopping with ease.

According to an International Data Corp survey released last week, smartphone apps may influence up to $1.7 billion of holiday retail sales. The survey found shoppers are most likely to use apps to find big-ticket electronics, followed by apparel and footwear. It also found that quick online comparison shopping with smartphone apps will account for just over one percent of all consumer electronics purchases this holiday season, including smartphones.

Getting the best deals is all about preparation and knowing where to look. For Android users, here are seven shopping apps to get started, helping to find the best deals, not only online, but also local brick-and-mortar stores.

  • Amazon Mobile: Posting new, deeply discounted products on its Web site every day in the days leading up to Black Friday, the Amazon app helps you stay on top of it all, linking you right to Black Friday deals from the main page.
  • Black Friday App : DealNews.com’s Black Friday App compares prices with online deals, helps create a shopping list, and links you to retailers for direct online shopping. The app also syncs to your dealnews.com account automatically.
  • The Black Friday $$$ Coupons: This app aggregates information on Black Friday deals, and off season sales, at clothing and accessory retailers such as Gap, Old Navy, Abercrombie and Fitch, Victoria’s Secret, Forever 21, Bath & Body Works, Express, Wet Seal, Hollister, and more. The app also sends automatic pings when the user nears a retailer with relevant deals.
  • Black Friday Ads sends information on Black Friday deals in the form of coupons right to your device. Offering hand selected deals from major brands, the app sorts deals by brand, newest arrivals, the hottest deals, and by category (fashion, food, kids, etc). It also has a handy sharing feature so that friends and family can get great deals, too.
  • TGI Black Friday: Powered by TGIblackfriday.com, this app searches for products, notifies shoppers when new ads are posted and lets shoppers save their favorite deals for later. It also gives users a breakdown of how many deals are at a particular store so you can better plan shopping trips.
  • Zoomingo: Like the others, this app identifies Black Friday deals, online and in local stores, revealing deals on everything from fashion to electronics from more than 80 retailers, including Nordstrom and Target.
  • TGI Cyber Monday app: Complementing the TGI Black Friday app, this app tracks Cyber Monday deals (the Monday following Black Friday), historically the day online retailers get a boost in sales after the brick and mortar retail deals are picked clean. The app tracks deals from top online retailers, including Amazon, Best Buy, Kohl’s, Target and more.

Do you have plans to hit the Black Friday sales? Any particular shopping strategies that work for you? Let us know in the comments below. 

(portions of this story were previously published for myHTC)

Recalls Plus Gives Connected Parents Peace of Mind

Baby cribs. Highchairs. Toys. Apple juice. Medicine. They all have one thing in common: at least one brand in each category has been recalled because it was unsafe for our children.

That’s alarming! If you’re a parent, you most certainly have these products in your home. Do you track the long list of product recalls everyday to ensure your kids are safe? I don’t either. So when one of my readers told me about a new app that tracks and alerts parents to product recalls, my ears perked up.

Recalls Plus, a free family safety app, curates recall notifications and alerts you to those that matter most to you based on your settings. The app scours the product recall lists issued by the main federal agencies that track product safety (Consumer Product Safety Commission, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Food and Drug Administration, and the United States Department of Agriculture) and notifies busy parents of potentially harmful products that they may have in their homes. Available for the iPad, iPhone and iPod in the iTunes store or as a separate Facebook app, parents can use it to search recall history by brand, category or age group, and you can create a personal watch list of products already in your home. But I also love that you can track and monitor for food-related allergens and share any relevant recalls with other parents in your social network using Facebook and Twitter. Genius!

If you’re like me, you worry about your kids all the time, but having an app doing all the work for me while I focus on my kids gives me some peace of mind. Intuitive and easy to use, Recalls Plus only takes a few minutes to setup. Once the settings are in place, it proactively notifies you only if the app finds a match on your list, but you can customize the settings so that you are alerted in the way that you prefer. LOVE IT!

But, I do have a few complaints. First, the mobile app is only available for iOS, so if you have an Android phone or a Windows Phone, like me, you don’t get the convenience of the smartphone app. And, even if you’re an iOS user, the app doesn’t take full advantage of the phone features like the camera for an easy way to generate product lists with just a snap. And lastly, the Facebook app doesn’t support Internet Explorer, which is a big fail.

For those of you who might be so geeky to care, Recalls Plus is brought to us by the enterprise software giant SAP, who promises to leverage its expertise in big data analytics and enterprise-class usability to bring us even more consumer-based applications that makes parents’ lives easier. Will be interesting to see what they deliver next.

Have you used the Recalls Plus app? Let us know what you think of it in the comments below.

Is Your Living Room Connected?


Yesterday, my 4-year old and I had a very active and sweat inducing game of Fruit Ninja with Kinect for Xbox 360. Slashing fruit and dodging bombs, he was having a great time, and I was getting a great workout. But we’ve only recently introduced our kids to the world of connected devices, and have limited their exposure to traditional video games in favor of toys and games that don’t have flashing lights or sounds. That said, Xbox rules our living room and keeps us connected to our entertainment and the people we care about.

Last year, Kinect for Xbox 360 introduced controller-free entertainment by letting you use your body and voice to play your favorite games and access entertainment, turning you into the controller. This amazing innovation changed my view of the gaming world and consoles, seeing that Xbox isn’t just for gaming anymore. In our household, it’s our entertainment hub, enabling us to access new release movies exclusive for Xbox, our Netflix video library, see live concerts and access our favorite television shows, as well as a growing library of family friendly gaming. And we use the device for live video chat with family and friends in other time zones and on different continents.

In fact, we’re so connected that our family was “forced” to invest in two consoles (one for the Man Cave and one for the family room) to prevent the boys from arguing, and by boys, I mean my husband and our 2- and 4-year old kids.

And now I’m getting in the game. Microsoft just launched perhaps its biggest software upgrade for Xbox 360, refreshing the interface, deeper voice integration, stronger social capabilities and more robust integration across devices. With these updates, we’ll get more TV programing, more movies, more music and of course more games across new third-party applications, expanding our entertainment options. And Microsoft is further enhancing the connected experience by broadly integrating Kinect with Bing search technology across the Xbox Live dashboard for smooth and seamless navigation using voice and gestures to simplify search for content and services. With Bing on Xbox, your voice becomes the ultimate remote control to find the games, movies, TV shows and music you’re looking for. Though voice control isn’t new, the deeper integration with Bing creates a completely new experience. Tell that to my kids, though. My 4-year old son already speaks to Xbox and waves his hands around, commanding it to launch Dinosaur Train, and my 2-year old skips Xbox altogether, commanding the TV to launch Team Umizoomi. Now we’ll see our devices actually respond to them!

For me, the story is about the updates that push our connected experiences further, and devices are central to this scenario. Though using my voice as a controller sounds like a fun option, it won’t always be practical. So Microsoft has also released a mobile app exclusively for the Windows Phone that enables it to control the console, services and content. The free Xbox Companion app uses Bing to search for content, access and launch programing, and turns your smartphone into a wireless remote control for media playback and for purchase transactions. I can’t wait to try it out.

Another cool feature is how Xbox leverages the cloud to create a more seamless experience across our device portfolios, including other Xbox 360 consoles. Got to run out before finishing your game or movie? This new feature will allow us to log into any Xbox 360, then play our saved games or watch our in-progress movies from other consoles. This update enables us to take our entertainment with us when we’re on the go. Parents rejoice!

Though some of the major network and entertainment partners won’t be ready to launch their content this week (see GeekWire for a complete rundown of who, what, when), you can bet my family will be bundling all our digital content and subscriptions through this one device, simplifying our experiences.

If you’re intrigued and want all the details, the folks at Engadget have a super solid review of the new features and functionality. So check it out.

What do you have to say? Do you think Xbox 360 is on the right track regarding the future of connected entertainment? What are the barriers to drive this concept forward?

UPDATE: The updates are live in many households this morning, and I see that Microsoft has updated a variety of parental controls, which will likely be of interest here. I’m told that parents can manage their child’s console activity, sharing on social networking sites as well as regulate access to games, movies, television, and music. Additionally, the update brings enhanced navigation to Xbox 360 Family Settings to better integrate with Kinect. I’ll check those updates out and report back. For more reading, check out Microsoft Xbox and Kinect Newsroom