At Electronics Expo, Hot Items Come On Four Wheels

The Consumer Electronics Show is usually a showcase for gadgets, but some of the coolest innovations at this week's expo in Las Vegas arrived on wheels. Joel Johnson of Gizmodo.com talks with host Guy Raz about the latest technological advances inside your car.

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GUY RAZ, host:

Now, you can't use a Google phone to drive a car, at least yet, but technology has arrived for things like wireless Internet in cars and iPhone apps that could control features on your dashboard. Those were unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week.

Joel Johnson is there. He's an editor with Gizmodo.com.

And, Joel, what are the trends you're seeing there in terms of, you know, in-car technology?

Mr. JOEL JOHNSON (Editor, Gizmodo.com): The big trend this year is car manufacturers starting to give up trying to build their own gadgets to put in cars and trying to figure out how to let you use your smartphone in your car and wire it all up into the existing system.

Ford, for instance, announced some upgrades with a system they called SYNC.

RAZ: Mm-hmm.

Mr. JOHNSON: And, for example, one of the things they were showing was an Android phone that runs the Pandora streaming service...

RAZ: Pandora, we should point out, is a music service.

Mr. JOHNSON: Yeah, exactly, a music streaming service; something that people normally would - originally listened to on their Web browser and then eventually on their phone. And now, you can plug it into the car itself. And instead of having to look down and use the phone to control things, you can just push a button on the steering wheel and it'll talk back to the phone and allow everything to go through.

So they're starting to realize that people want some of these services in their car. But, you know, if you only buy a car every five years, that computer is going to be pretty old. But you buy a new cell phone every year or two, so they're trying to figure out how to keep those all together.

RAZ: Right. And you talked about this Ford system, the SYNC. Ford, this American car company, has actually produced the gold standard for like what an in-car technology should be, right?

Mr. JOHNSON: Yeah, it's pretty impressive, I have to say. I've been looking at this story quite a bit over the last month or so, and I talked to car companies from all over the world. And I think Ford has the best system out there right now. They're a couple generations ahead of probably where everybody else is at.

RAZ: Hmm. Now, you mentioned Pandora. This, you know, music streaming service that I use on my iPhone. You need an Internet connection to use it. Does this mean that they're making wireless Internet in cars that's going to be available any time soon?

Mr. JOHNSON: So there's been a kind of trend over the last couple of years to try to get Internet in cars.

RAZ: Mm-hmm.

Mr. JOHNSON: And what Ford has done - and not to just get back to Ford - but again, they're the ones kind of doing this right. They're going to allow you to just plug in a 3G USB stick right into the car and then use your existing cellular Internet in the car.

RAZ: Like big Wi-Fi hubs.

Mr. JOHNSON: Yeah, exactly.

RAZ: Drive in Wi-Fi hubs.

I want to move on to another pretty cool thing that I read about: Applications that they're designing for iPhones and for Blackberries that could control things inside of your car, right? I mean, tell us about what's out there.

Mr. JOHNSON: It's going to be a long time before applications can actually control things that matter in the car, that are going to be safety-related issues.

RAZ: Mm-hmm.

Mr. JOHNSON: You're not going to tune your car. You're not going to be able to input a lot of information into your car for a long time.

But what is opening up a lot more is allowing your car's sensors and the information that it's gathering to talk back to the iPhone. What's going to happen - it's happening in phones, it's happening in almost all of our technology. All of the things our gadgets and our technology can sense are starting to talk to each other. And we're trying to figure out how to use all that data to learn new things.

So the idea of being able to open up your car door locks with your iPhone, like, yeah, you know, that might happen at some point when they can really get the security tightened. But I think a lot of the more interesting stuff is about what happens when your car can talk back to your phone and then on through to the Internet, and what happens when cars become parts of the whole network together, not just individual islands.

RAZ: That's Joel Johnson. He's an editor for Gizmodo and he's at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Joel, thanks very much for joining us.

Mr. JOHNSON: It's a pleasure.

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