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Connectivity Is CE Buzzword

Automakers, receiver manufacturers and carriers chase the “mobile hotspot”

A troll highlights CEA’s “Club the Trolls” campaign against patent trolls.
Credit: Photo by Leslie Stimson
If radio broadcasters think the dashboard is crowded now, just wait.

Three trends are combining to increase the importance of the “connected car.” Everyone, it seems, has digital devices. Second, young people don’t get as excited to drive and buy cars as in the past. And many consumers say using Facebook is more critical than meeting people face-to-face.

Those factors are cited by Thilo Koslowski, an in-car electronics analyst for research firm Gartner, which finds that infotainment remains a hot topic for automakers. Forty-seven percent of consumers want to use mobile apps while driving, according to the company, though 89 percent also say they’re concerned about distracted driving.

Radio in numerous formats is part of infotainment in cars “connected” to the digital world through embedded modems or smartphones. Automakers are employing myriad technologies and user interfaces to connect drivers and passengers to entertainment sources even more in future.

Meanwhile, in another trend that will affect how consumers act behind the wheel, car manufacturers are exploring “assisted” driving technology on three levels: automated, autonomous and driverless. This too is a reflection of connectivity.

“Most of us will experience this in the future,” Koslowski says. Gartner predicts premium car brands will have such capabilities in 2014, volume brands in 2016 and all vehicles by 2020. The research firm says that theoretically, automated vehicles could start taking over for city drivers by 2025.

Why are automakers, receiver manufacturers and wireless carriers chasing the connected vehicle? To sell you stuff. As the radio industry knows, Americans are a captive audience on their commute; U.S. residents spend an average of 48 minutes a day in their vehicles.

Voxx Electronics President Tom Malone says companies like Roku, Slingbox and Zulu are in your home now and want to get into your car. The “enabler” is the hotspot in the vehicle.

Here are some of the developments at the recent International Consumer Electronics Show of interest to radio managers and engineers. Our coverage gives a flavor of how consumer electronics and car companies are approaching the question of audio entertainment, and infotainment, in the vehicle. Also see page 3; and news about NextRadio will appear next.

Alpine Updates TuneIt Smartphone App
Features customers most want in an aftermarket radio are connectivity and phone apps, Alpine Electronics tells RW.

TuneIt 2.0, the next version of Alpine’s sound tuning app for smartphones, includes compatibility with more Alpine source units. Alpine also plans to release what the manufacturer says is the aftermarket’s first 9-inch navigation system.

TuneIt debuted in 2013; it’s a sound tuning app that also offers Facebook notifications. Users download the free app onto their iPhone or Android smartphone and create a user profile with information about themselves, their vehicle and their Alpine sound system. They can follow the instructions to adjust sound settings (like Time Correction, Parametric EQ and Crossover) for their specific vehicle, or choose from the pre-made settings in the database.

Users are notified of incoming activity on their Facebook wall through an audible alert and a blinking blue button on the receiver. If the driver chooses to accept the notification, TuneIt 2.0 will read the message back via text-to-speech.

With TuneIt, the user can mix media sources; the application works in the car like an app does on a phone, Alpine tells RW, giving the driver the ability to make shortcuts to get to AM/FM, Facebook or the phone, for example.

Three new receivers are compatible with the updated TuneIt app: the CDE-154BT and CDE-153BT advanced Bluetooth CD receivers and UTE-152BT advanced Bluetooth digital media receiver.

“Live Connected. Drive Connected”
Kenwood will introduce 56 new products this year. Of those, 19 support HD Radio, 30 support satellite radio and 31 support iHeartRadio.

The company’s marketing slogan for new aftermarket receivers is “Live Connected. Drive Connected,” according to Scott Caswell, Kenwood USA senior marketing manager.

Bluetooth is a popular feature; consumers really want it so they can stream audio in the car, he tells RW.

The aftermarket radio manufacturer has updated its flagship infotainment receiver, introduced last year. A new feature of the DNN991HD is a touchscreen for smoother operation and better graphics. The unit, which comes out in March, also includes WiFi capability.

Kenwood connection capabilities for iPhone and Android smartphones make it possible through what the manufacturer calls “AppMode” to access iTunes, Pandora, iHeartRadio, Garmin, HD Radio and Kenwood’s Route Collector, in addition to accessing apps on the user’s smartphone.

Pioneer Connects Receivers to the Cloud
Pioneer is rolling out a user interface that controls a combination of features with connected services. Five receivers will be featured in the Networked Entertainment Experience, or NEX series.

Consumers want to connect their phones to their cars; so the five NEX models (four navigation and one audio video receiver) are designed to accommodate smartphone use. Along with NEX connectivity and the enhanced user interface, the models feature a large touchscreen display. The flagship AVIC-8000NEX and the AVIC-7000NEX feature 7-inch screens.

Kenwood USA is all about updated car infotainment with its slogan: “Live Connected. Drive Connected.” Probably the most significant feature is AppRadio Mode, which allows Android and iPhone users to access and control apps from the touchscreen display when connected to a smartphone.

The next generation of network connected in-dash receivers bridges the gap between smartphone-tethered products like AppRadio and traditional multimedia products like navigation and DVD receivers, according to Ted Cardenas, vice president of marketing for the Car Electronics Division of Pioneer Electronics USA. “By leveraging the connectivity of the smartphone, we are able to augment and update many of the built-in features with dynamic cloud-based content.”

Additional features include iDatalink Maestro support, which enables consumers to retain many of the original features found or tied with the stock radio; Bluetooth; and HD Radio technology including Artist Experience. The receivers are SiriusXM-ready with a separate tuner.

NEX receivers allow users to create Pandora radio stations on connected smartphones and control Harman’s Aha Radio’s smartphone app. The receivers will be available in Q1.

Livio Supports In-Vehicle Infotainment Standard
Livio says its integration with new parent Ford is going well, giving the software developer access to more technical expertise and funding than if it had remained on its own.

Livio became a wholly owned subsidiary of Ford Motor Company in 2013, as we reported.

Now, Livio says the company will support SmartDeviceLink as the industry standard for in-vehicle infotainment and offer software code and support for suppliers, OEM partners and app developers in 2014.

Ford contributed the AppLink in-vehicle connectivity platform to the open-source SmartDeviceLink project in 2013 so automakers, suppliers and developers can create compatible infotainment systems.

Livio founder and CEO Jake Sigal says it’s time for such a standard. “Livio is helping apps get safely into cars, increasing quality and reducing costs for app developers and automotive suppliers.”

Livio demonstrated its Livio Connect technology with partners DENSO, KPIT Technologies, Humax Automotive and Pioneer Electronics. Other hardware partners include Visteon and Voxx Electronics Corp.

Audi, AT&T Offer 4G LTE
Audi and AT&T are offering U.S. Audi drivers an in-vehicle 4G LTE data connection with the introduction of the 2015 A3 line this year.

Audi of America President Scott Keogh calls the 4G LTE connection “the fastest in-vehicle connection available” and says that will “significantly enhance the infotainment experience.” The A3 family will feature updated Audi Connect including navigation, “read-aloud” news headlines, Facebook and Twitter alerts; access to 7,000 Web radio stations and personalized RSS news feeds.

The high-speed connectivity will provide faster downloads and high-definition video streaming for up to eight devices used by passengers over the in-vehicle Wi-Fi hotspot, according to the companies.

CEA’s Dave Wilson received a plaque to honor his 20 years of working as a staff liaison to the NRSC.
Credit: Courtesy NRSC
The automaker will offer a Mobile Share data plan option to AT&T wireless customers who would like to add their vehicle to their existing smartphone or tablet data plan.

Eventually the advanced connectivity capability will go beyond the A3 as Audi plans to roll it out across its vehicle lineup as new or refreshed models come to market.

Volvo’s Connectivity “As Easy as FM”
In-car technology “isn’t about offering a thousand apps; it’s about giving you precisely what you need, before you even knew you needed it,” says David Holecek, connectivity brand manager at Volvo Cars.

That’s what Volvo intends to do this May when the automaker plans to roll out its updated Sensus Connect infotainment and navigation system, built on Ericsson’s Connected Vehicle Cloud. The onboard experience will combine connected services, infotainment, navigation and audio.

Drivers will be able to stream Pandora Internet audio via a data connection provided by the built-in modem or a smartphone. Drivers can control Pandora using their head unit, “making access to personalized radio in the car is as easy as FM radio,” according to the automaker.

Rdio, TuneIn and Stitcher Internet audio services are also compatible with Sensus Connect.

Among other features, the new in-car experience will give drivers the ability to enter a car that is preheated or precooled via remote-start functionality from a smartphone.

“There is no point in filling a car with technology if it comes off as overwhelming, so our main focus is always to give our customers the best experience available and make it easy to digest,” says Holecek. Sensus “allows drivers to turn the entire car into a Wi-Fi hotspot for all of their connected devices,” he adds.

Pure Delivers SiriusXM Over Internet Radios
Pure has integrated SiriusXM into its Internet radio receivers to give subscribers access to satellite radio programming. Subscribers can to listen to SiriusXM on the Evoke F4, One Flow and Sensia 200D Connect.

Pure is a U.K.-based company that formed 10 years ago and opened a West Coast sales office for the U.S. last year. Now Pure sells broadcast and Internet receivers as well as wireless audio systems in Europe, Australia and North America.

The company plans to add SiriusXM content to other Pure platforms during 2014.

NPR, GM Team Up on App
NPR says it has developed a dedicated NPR-branded news app for General Motors.

The automaker will offer the Chevrolet and Opal in its in-car AppShop, available this summer in certain Chevrolets with MyLink technology. In Europe the New News app will be available to drivers of the Opel Insignia sedan.

The NPR News app is the first app dedicated to news that Chevrolet plans to offer, according to the broadcaster and automaker. Drivers will be able to download the app by accessing the AppShop through an on-screen icon.

The dedicated app for General Motors is the latest step in NPR’s effort to make content accessible for audiences across multiple platforms. The NPR News app is already compatible with Ford’s SYNC AppLink system, and NPR content is being integrated into in-car systems by Aha Radio, CloudCar, Livio Radio and OpenCar.

Pandora Rolls Out Auto Ads
Pandora has launched in-car advertising. National brands include BP, Ford Motor Co., State Farm and Taco Bell. The 15- and 30-second ads will run across the 130 vehicle models that integrate Pandora and more than 270 aftermarket automotive devices.

Pandora says it will deliver fewer audio ads to cars than on its other platforms. The Pandora One subscription premium accounts will remain ad-free.

The Internet audio service can connect advertisers “with a more targeted audience than traditional radio can provide,” according to Chief Marketing Officer Simon Fleming-Wood. The company claims an 8.6 percent share of total U.S. radio listening; some broadcast radio executives have disputed the number.

Patent Trolls Gain FTC Attention
Julie Brill, a commissioner with the Federal Trade Commission, says so-called “patent trolls” threatened more than 100,000 companies in 2012 alone. “Trivial” patent infringement lawsuits can undermine competition and deter innovation, she says.

That’s why the FTC has proposed patent reforms.

Congress is considering several bills aimed at so-called “patent assertion entities” who sue companies to get “unjustifiable settlements,” according the regulator. Bills being considered by lawmakers would require plaintiffs to be more transparent and spell out more clearly what technology patents are allegedly being violated.

The issue is of interest to radio, with stations facing patent lawsuits from companies over the use of HD Radio technology and music automation and storage technology, as we’ve reported.

Though the FTC is still studying the patent reform issue, Congress shouldn’t wait on the FTC but should act with “deliberate speed,” Brill says.

NRSC Honors Three
The National Radio Systems Committee has honored three members who are making career transitions: Robert Briskman, Mike Starling and Dave Wilson.

Robert Briskman is retiring from SiriusXM. He was a co-founder and technical executive for the company originally called Satellite CD Radio, established in 1990.

Mike Starling, vice president at the network and executive director of NPR Labs, retired from the broadcaster in January, as we’ve reported.

Dave Wilson spent a total of 20 years as a staff manager of the NRSC, first while working at NAB, and then for CEA. Wilson moves on to new duties at CEA and Mike Bergman, formerly of Kenwood USA, has stepped into that role.

Briskman, Starling and Wilson were honored in January for their years of NRSC participation and contributions to industry debates on important technical topics as well as to recommended best practices and standards, according to NRSC Chair Milford Smith.

“While we, the NRSC membership, debate and eventually come to consensus agreement on issues,” its CEA’s Dave Wilson and NAB’s David Layer “who transform those deliberations into cogent documents, recommended practices, minutes and standards. They are the engine that drives the NRSC,” Smith tells Radio World.