The age of the iCar is upon us

Published: Monday, March 10, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 7, 2014 at 4:30 p.m.

In case you haven’t noticed, technology tends to come at us in waves. For the most part this can be a good thing, unless of course you hate change. If that’s the case, it might be time to sound the tsunami alert because a big breaker is headed square in the face of the automotive industry.

Remember the mystical Hemi or the big block V-8? Today’s car buyer might be far more interested in the size of the in-dash touchscreen. Forget the rumble of the exhaust; today’s generation wants to know the prowess of the Bluetooth. Is it connected? How accurate is the voice recognition? Forget the tape deck, does this thing get Pandora?

If you haven’t been to the dealership in a while, let me assure you that cars have gone from relatively dumb to surprisingly smart. You might have never checked the sticker for a multimedia package or looked under the bumper for a backup camera, but it’s the new chic. If you buy a car without these features now, you’re bound to be a square peg in a round hole in five years when you’re the only one on the highway still listening to mixed tapes and using the optical rearview.

Even Apple is making its move into the driver’s seat by rolling out its CarPlay technology last week, which integrates your iPhone and SIRI directly into your dash. If you’ve seen a newer model car’s touchscreen display and were underwhelmed by its user interface, just imagine the screen now mirroring your iPhone including selected apps like Music, Maps, iMessage and Phone. Even better, the system can be controlled via the SIRI virtual assistant and uses your existing data plan to stay connected.

The system, announced last year, is now being introduced to premium lines like Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo, but commitments are in from virtually every other manufacturer for the coming year in select models.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. SIRI will be reminiscent of KITT from Knight Rider talking to us like we’re David Hasselhoff on the PCH. Hold tight. No perms, leather jackets or swirling red light on the hood here, just the ability to do hands-free what you’re probably already doing when you should be driving. Instead of bumbling around trying to play the Baywatch theme song from your iTunes account, you can simply say, “SIRI, play song, Baywatch theme.” Hopefully, your windows will be rolled up so the rest of us don’t have to hear it.

Android fans, don’t fret. The company has plans of its own with the pending Open Automotive Alliance and has agreements in place with many of the same manufacturers as Apple. Microsoft’s SYNC system has been in play for a few years and appears to be gearing up for a bigger push as well. Instead of getting in the car and inserting your key, the new vogue will be getting in the car and syncing your phone.

My eye-opener to all of this was purchasing a new Mazda for my wife. As a technophile, I was amazed at all the new options. It also brought me to the reality that since she has the new car, I have the old one and will probably be driving it until the wheels fall of. No husband should be out-teched by a spouse who could care less.

This led me to Amazon where I discovered a crude, yet effective, device from Satechi that plugs into the cigarette lighter and sends Bluetooth streams between your smartphone and radio via a radio signal. It has an iPod-type interface that can be adjusted without taking your hands off the steering wheel.

I can text, call and even command it to play a specific song or to shuffle music from a particular artist. Probably the best $75 I have spent on my car in years.

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