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CES 2008: Car tech and GPS

Preview of what's to come in car tech and GPS at the 2008 International Consumer Electronics Show.

The 2008 International Consumer Electronics Show is the first one to dedicate an entire hall to automotive-related tech. The convergence of in-car entertainment, communications, and information promises to continue in 2008 with the release of whole range of in-dash and portable device capable of providing GPS navigation and playing multiple media formats.

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For portable navigation systems, the market is as hot as ever, helped in part by dropping prices and increasingly feature-rich devices. We reviewed quite a number of handheld navigation devices in 2007, and we've found that when it comes to the core navigation functions they all offer similar features: text- and voice-guided directions, extensive points of interest databases, automatic route recalculation, and so forth. So in order to differentiate itself from the competition, GPS manufacturers have started adding more distinct and advanced features, setting up some trends we expect to see at CES and in 2008.

What exactly do we see in our crystal ball? Well, we think voice commands will be a hot thing. This technology lets you operate your portable GPS and enter addresses with the sound of your voice, and we're already starting to see it pop up in models like the TomTom GO 920 and the Magellan Maestro 4250. Also, 3D building renderings and photorealistic images of complex intersections should make its way to more portable nav systems, providing helpful visual aids to drivers. GPS and location-based services in cell phones and smartphones is another craze, and we'll see more of this to be sure, but it has a little way to go yet in terms of mass adoption. For now, people are getting onboard with the standalone in-car GPS, and as that continues we hope to see the inclusion of traffic services and text-to-speech functionality in even the most entry-level models.

Aside from navigation, the market for mobile in-car entertainment devices is also heating up. Bluetooth is finally breaking out of its cellphone role as more and more devices offer the A2DP Bluetooth audio-streaming profile, and automakers appear to be rediscovering FM, which is being used to transmit sound from portable devices to the car speakers via the in-dash stereo. On the subject of radio waves, HD Radio has just started to make a splash, and we are expecting a number of new HD-compatible devices at this year's CES.

Also on the horizon are fully fledged in-dash PCs, with Jensen and Azentek showing off their Windows-based car computers complete with Intel processors, hard drives, and Wi-Fi connectivity. One other major trend to look for in automotive tech at CES 2008 is gesture recognition, which promises to challenge the shaky dominance of voice-command application by making use of devices with advanced touch screens and proximity sensors.