CES 2012: The unlikeliest car show

No doubt, CES 2012 will be a jumping-off point for the next stage of car technology's evolution, but what should we expect to see?

The interior of the Mercedes A Class concept car.
The interior of the Mercedes A Class concept car. Mercedes-Benz

Over the last few years, the passenger car has evolved from a gas-guzzling hunk of steel into what some have called the largest piece of consumer electronics in your life.

So, while it's fitting that the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show (CES 2012) will likely be a jumping-off point for the next stage of development on car infotainment, connectivity, and safety technology, I still find it a bit odd to see so many cars sharing the floor with the likes of 3D TVs and compact digital cameras. Now that the car has established itself as a cornerstone of CES 2012, what new technologies and products should we expect to see?

Toyota Entune
I predict that smartphone-connected cars will see their respective lists of compatible apps grow at CES 2012. Josh Miller/CNET

A literal information superhighway
Now that a few automakers have tested the waters with systems like Toyota Entune, BMW/Mini Connect, Audi Connect, Hyundai BlueLink, and Ford Sync AppLink, I expect that 2012 will be the year that the industry dives head-first into connecting the car to the cloud. Expect new partnership announcements from the major OEMs with developers of popular apps that are useful to drivers--think streaming Internet radio, location-aware deals services, social network check-ins and friend finders, and destination search.

Only it won't just be the OEMs. I'm also expecting to see similar connected devices from the aftermarket. Who will be the first to the market with a connected double-DIN replacement stereo? I'm not sure, but it will only be a matter of time before it happens.

Interdevice communications
There are two ways to get the Internet into the car. The first is to build a wireless connection into the car, but the method that most OEMs (Toyota, BMW, Ford, for example) have been gravitating toward is to use the one you've already got: the 3G/4G-connected mobile phone in the driver's pocket. Expect the relationship between your smartphone and your automobile to become tighter than it is. I'm also hoping to see more automakers and aftermarket manufacturers looking beyond the low-hanging fruit of iOS connectivity and experimenting with new ways to integrate more closely with Android, Windows Phone, and yes, even Blackberry devices in the next generation of car technology.

MoodGrid by Gracenote
Gracenote will be showing an interface that lets the user create playlists by swiping and tapping a MoodGrid. Gracenote

Experimental interfaces
With all of this new information at the driver's fingertips, automakers and third-party car-tech OEMs will need to address the manner in which the driver interacts the vehicle. Vehicle designers will be pushing the envelope of vehicle interface design, pushing beyond the "virtual button" paradigm that touch-screen interfaces have utilized since their inception. Expect to see the implementation of more gesture-based control schemes to harness all of that swiping, pinching, and tapping that users have been practicing on their smartphones.

I also expect to see in-car interfaces following smartphones down the path toward more robust and natural voice command systems and Siri-like digital concierge services.

Mike Tinskey, the manager for Global Electrification Infrastructure, discussed the charging station that the Ford Focus Electric will use at CES 2011. James Martin/CNET

Anything could happen
When I heard that Ford was giving a keynote at CES 2011, I expected that the automaker would just be trotting out a new version of its Ford Sync infotainment system. No one expected the Ford Focus Electric to roll onto the stage when it did. The announcement of a new car at a consumer electronics show was unprecedented and blew our minds.

This year Mercedes-Benz is giving a keynote presentation this go-round, and you can bet that it's got something big up its sleeve , so not to be outdone by Ford. Expect the luxury automaker to be highlighting its new connected service, integration with Google Maps and Street View, and its wide array of driver assistance and passenger safety technologies.

 

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