As General Motors introduced its first efforts to bring apps from your smartphone into your dashboard at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show, Ford expanded its Sync AppLink system -- which does just that and launched about a year ago.
When AppLink made its debut, Pandora was the only app a Sync user could operate via in-dash touch screen. Later, Stitcher radio gained Sync compatibility, which includes voice control as well.
To see NPR News and Slacker Radio in action in a new Ford Mustang GT, check out our video from CES above.
Ford says that more apps that work with Sync's voice recogniton software are on the way. Oddly enough, Sync (which was developed through a partnership between Ford and Microsoft) has no AppLink compatibility with Windows Phone apps.
Just as with GM's in-car-app systems -- Chevrolet MyLink and Cadillac CUE -- AppLink can use apps only if it’s connected to a smartphone with the app installed, and it accesses data through the phone. Ford isn't selling any AppLink data plans.
For now, AppLink is available only in Sync-equipped Fiestas, Mustangs, Fusions, F-150s and Econoline vans, but the U.S. automaker is considering pushing AppLink out to other Ford brands, such as Lincoln, as well as to vehicles running older versions of Sync.
General Motors, Ford, Mercedes, Subaru and even QNX (owned by Research In Motion) each showed off their respectively differing approaches to getting apps into the dashboards of our cars at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week.
And while the idea of apps in the car is a dream for some, so far, most of the apps center around replicating smartphone or tablet experiences from the driver's seat.
OnStar, the GM-owned telematics company, has a slightly different idea to piggyback off the work developers are doing building apps for use in both smartphones and cars.
OnStar wants developers to create apps that use its wireless service to actually control cars in new ways that utilize what it already can do -- automatic crash response, stolen vehicle tracking, turn-by-turn navigation and roadside assistance for subscribers of its wireless in-car assistance service.
This isn't Google's self-driving car but rather OnStar is hoping developers will follow what it started when it launched its OnStar RemoteLink app for Apple iPhones and iPads last year.
OnStar RemoteLink enables users (who also own select 2010 or newer Cadillac, Chevrolet, Buick or GMC vehicles) to view real-time data such as mileage, fuel in the gas tank, oil life and tire pressure from their car or truck. The app also allows users to remotely unlock doors, honk horns, shine lights, start the engine and, of course, contact a dealer.
It's these sorts of capabilities that OnStar is now offering developers through its API, and the first developer to build on that is RelayRides, a neighbor to car-sharing service. A new RelayRides app, which we got a preview of at CES (as seen int he video above), will launch later this year on Apple's iOS and allow car owners to unlock their cars remotely after the person renting their vehicle arrives, or even track where a renter has taken their car.
OnStar's API isn't yet available to all developers; company officials said that would take place in the first half of this year, but what RelayRides is working on shows a bit of its potential. GM said at CES that any developers interested in using the OnStar API should email the company at email@example.com.
RelayRides says its new OnStar integrated app, in both an iOS and Android-friendly HTML5 form, will launch "early this year."
Like television makers, leading automobile manufacturers want application developers to imbue cars with some of the energy and innovation seen in smartphones. And like their counterparts in the TV industry, they haven't settled on a standard way of doing so. The mishmash of approaches means that drivers may have to wait longer for their favorite apps to become available in the models of their choice, as different manufacturers follow divergent paths toward the connected car.
The differences surfaced at this week's Consumer Electronics Show, where a host of car brands demonstrated the entertainment and information offerings they're developing. Mercedes-Benz typified one approach, showing off a customized app platform built in-house and curated by its apps team in Silicon Valley. Subaru exemplified the opposite strategy; it chose the apps platform that Aha, a subsidiary of Harman, is developing for car makers and aftermarket car-stereo manufacturers. Executives at both car companies say they want to take advantage of app developers' work on mobile phones. But they also note that their top priority is safety, which shapes their choices of apps to make available and the way drivers interact with them.
Mercedes is atypical in one important respect: It embeds the equivalent of a 3G Verizon phone into its cars, rather relying on the driver's smartphone for connectivity. The latest version of its telematics software, called mbrace2 and due in April, is the company's first that can be updated remotely. That means new apps can be added while they're still new, instead of subjecting them to the industry's torturous three-year development cycle -- a delay that can render an app obsolete by the time it makes it into a car, said Sascha Simon, Mercedes' head of advanced product planning.
It's not an open platform, however, and Mercedes will not publish its programming interfaces for developers, Simon said in an interview this week. But it is making available through mbrace2 a wide variety of apps and services that are relevant and enhance the driving experience -- 60 so far, and the number will grow.
Some times the coolest new things you see at the Consumer Electronics Show aren't gadgets or apps or even 55-inch OLED TV sets (although, admittedly, those are cool). Sometimes they're just technologies, which is what digital stereoscopic displays and gesture recognition were before they became 3D TV sets and XBox Kinect.
A good example this year is Alljoyn, an open-source software project coming out of an innovation lab run by Qualcomm. Alljoyn enables nearby users of an app to interact with each other, even when there's no local data network. Multiple people in the room can join the activity, whether it be playing a game, taking turns in the virtual DJ booth or working on an electronic whiteboard. And unlike collaborating through a congested Internet, there's little or no delay -- the users' devices are seamlessly synchronized.
The magic isn't in the short-range communications technology -- Alljoyn runs on top of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. What's special is the ability it gives developers to quickly add proximity networking to just about any app, even if they have no expertise in radio communications. For example, it took programmers at Namco only a week to add Alljoyn capabilities to their Pacman Kart Rally game, according to Qualcomm's Liat Ben-zur.
The demos at the Qualcomm booth showed how nearby tablets, smartphones and even a tablet and a connected TV could join in games and productivity apps. Because Alljoyn connects apps, not devices, users can collaborate simultaneously with separate groups on different programs, with no overlap -- for example, working on a virtual whiteboard with one team while collaborating on a document with another.
Ben-zur said the potential uses include a wide variety of entertainment, education and business applications. The breakthrough here, she said, is that any developer will be able to make apps that can seamlessly discover and interoperate with related apps nearby. She added, "I believe this is a new Pandora's box for mobile."
At the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, we saw a bit of a scramble by TV makers such as Samsung and LG to show off what they working on or releasing in the coming year that would allow us to control our TVs using voice, gesture and facial recognition.
Many technology pundits and analysts have said these sorts of announcements, which also took place at last year's CES, are in response to rumors that Apple is working on an "iTV" that will offer a new way of controlling a TV and maybe even how we pay for or watch channels and TV shows.
But as many video-game lovers out there know, TV voice recognition, gesture controls and facial recognition are already here in the form of Microsoft's Kinect motion-sensing camera, which is an accessory to the Xbox 360 home gaming console.
However, Kinect is just getting started, and currently has a small number of apps. And it's still a device that sells for about $150 and requires an Xbox 360, which starts at $200. Make no mistake, there will be a cost of entry to the future of TV.
At CES 2012, Microsoft showed off a bit of what the future may hold for Kinect, the Xbox and TV with demonstrations of its latest Kinect-enabled app for the Xbox, called Sesame Street Kinect (you can see our demonstration of the app in a video atop this article).
Sesame Street Kinect is what it sounds like, episodes of the long-running children's program tailored to use the Kinect camera. And what Kinect can do is really impressive.
Since 1969, children around the world have sat in front of TVs repeating back the alphabet, colors, words and numbers to characters on Sesame Street (I did it when I was a child). Until Sesame Street Kinect, which is set to release later this year at an unannounced price, the characters on the screen couldn't respond to the viewer's actions. Now, to a limited extent, they can.
The demonstration we saw featured the Grover, Elmo and Cookie Monster characters prompting viewers to interact by either saying certain words or moving in certain ways.
For example, we took part in a demonstration in which Grover drops a box of coconuts and asks that the viewer pick them up and throw them back to him.
I f the viewer stands up and moves in the way that they would throw an imaginary coconut (don't throw a real coconut unless your trying to break your TV) then Grover catches each one in his box, even reacting to how hard the Kinect interprets the viewer's throw to be.
The experience was a lot of fun for a room of four adults, and I imagine kids will enjoy this sort of thing too. Jose Pinero, am Xbox spokesman, said a similarly interactive app from National Geographic is coming this year as well.
Although Microsoft has sold more than 66 million Xbox consoles and more than 18 million Kinect cameras, the tech giant realizes it has something bigger than just video games on its hands with Kinect.
Both Kinect and Xbox Live are headed to Windows 8 later this year. Hopefully, that will mean more interactive "two-way TV" apps like Sesame Street Kinect, and more apps related to media outlets such as ESPN and National Geographic.
There are also rumors that the company is working to get Kinect built directly into TVs, which would very likely place Xbox Live and Kinect in direct competition with Google TV and Apple's expected entry into the TV market. That's a living-room showdown I'd like to see.
Are you the kind of person who loses your keys all the time but always seems to have your phone nearby?
Treehouse Labs has a leash for you. Its new lost-and-found system, Bikn (pronounced "beacon"), is basically two low-powered radios talking. One is on the case you put on your iPhone; the other is on the tags you attach to your stuff -- or your people. Then the Bikn app connects them.
Some folks consider the ubiquitous smartphone a kind of leash. Now you can actually "leash" your favorite devices -- and your two- and four-legged family members who might wander off -- using the same device.
The kit performs two functions -- tracking and "leashing." You can set a perimeter of near, medium or far. When your tagged person or item moves out of the established perimeter, an alarm sounds.
The $99 kit comes with two tags and the case. Additional kits come in pairs of two tags for $49. You can "leash" up to eight items.
Of course, you have to keep track of your iPhone -- but I suppose that's what Find My Phone is for.
As Republicans focused on the Iowa caucuses and President Barack Obama made a pitch to Iowans of his own over streaming video on Tuesday, the Obama 2012 reelection campaign took its message to Instagram.
The president's campaign staff, which is also looking to reach voters on Tumblr and Google+ (along with a few Republicanrivals), has posted two photos thus far, both of the president speaking with Iowa's caucus voters via video chat, making his case for another term in the White House.
Although Instagram — a photo-sharing app known for retro filters that allows people to share photos with one another from their iPhones, iPod Touches and iPads — is new territory for Obama, the move by his 2012 campaign shouldn't come as a surprise.
In the 2008 election, Obama's team was so well known for its use of Twitter, Facebook and blogging to help build up an overwhelming amount of support that the Technology blog described Obama as "the first social media President." And over the last four years, the White House has made great use of the photo-sharing site Flickr.
Instagram, which has seen its more than 5-million users share more than 150-million photos, said in a company blog post that it is "excited to welcome President Barack Obama to Instagram" and that it looks "forward to seeing how President Obama uses Instagram to give folks a visual sense of what happens in the everyday life of the President of the United States."
The Obama 2012 campaign is also looking for supporters to share their photos with the @BarackObama Instagram account by tagging their photos with "#obama2012," Instagram said.
The company also made sure to point out that political coverage on Instagram has been on the rise over the last year as the 2012 presidential election gets closer.
"News organizations such as NBC News, ABC World News and the Washington Post have been sharing behind-the-scenes photos at debates and town hall meetings across the country, offering a unique look into the 2012 elections," Instagram said.
Among the most interesting photos shared so far by news organizations covering the election on Instagram would have to be Washington Post reporter Philip Rucker's shot of Republican hopeful Mitt Romney typing on his Apple iPad in an airport.
LG Electronics is set to debut an 84-inch "ultra definition" 4K television at next month's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
And yes, the new TV set will be a 3-D TV as well. LG is calling the new 4K display "ultra definition" or "UD," to signal that this set can output a higher resolution image than current high-definition televisions.
So what is 4K exactly? It's the resolution that many believe will be the next step in high-definition standards for TVs and Web video. Today's current HD TV sets are either 1080p or 720p -- each number indicating the amount of vertical pixel lines of resolution the HD sets can handle.
As the name suggests, 4K resolution images have 4,000 lines of resolution, but this time the name refrences horizontal resolution. Many of today's top digital cameras used by filmmakers are shooting in 4K.
"LG is pushing the limits of home entertainment innovation with this 3D UD TV," said Havis Kwon, the president and CEO of LG's home entertainment division, in a statement.
LG 84-inch 3-D TV will actually offer a resolution of 3,840 x 2,160 pixels, which by some standards is considered worthy of being called 4K.
The huge TV will also run apps using LG's Smart TV software, which offers more than 1,200 apps, such as Netflix, Hulu and Major League Baseball, and it will make use of LG's motion-sensing TV Magic Remote, which allows users to operate the TV using voice recognition or motion gestures.
The so-called UD TV will debut alongside two other massive LG sets at CES: a 55-inch organic-LED TV and a 72-inch LED-backlit 3-D TV. LG hasn't yet offered prices or details on when these TV will make it to store shelves.
Microsoft's Windows Phone operating system has reportedly passed 50,000 published apps, hitting the milestone just 14 months after its launch.
The 14-month time frame for 50,000 apps is second only to Apple's iOS, which hit 50,000 published apps in 12 months, according to a report from All About Windows Phone, a website that tracks Windows Phone apps and hosts a Windows Phone app directory as well.
Google's Android reached 50,000 apps published in its Anroid Market in 19 months, the report said.
For its part, Microsoft declined to comment on the report, neither confirming nor denying that it has passed the 50,000 mark. All About Windows Phone, a site not affiliated with Microsoft, said it compiled its data "from our own tracking system," which is also used to power its directory of Windows Phone apps.
"It took just over a year to get to 40,000 apps, but just 40 days to add the next 10,000 apps," showing increased growth for the Windows Phone operating system, Rafe Blandford, who runs the All About Windows Phone site, wrote in the site's report.
But just because more than 50,000 apps published doesn't mean that every Windows Phone user has access to all of those apps, Blandford said.
"Of the 50,126 items published to the Marketplace, just under 6,000 are no longer available," meaning they were removed by Microsoft or withdrawn by the publisher, he said. "In addition, some apps are only available in select markets. This means the number of available items to a consumer, in a given market, is lower than the number of published items."
In the U.S., about 42,655 apps are available for download, the report said.
Of the apps published to the Windows Phone Marketplace storefront, about 58% are free, compared with about 69% of apps being free in Google's Android Market and about 43% free in Apple's iOS App Store, Blandford said.
Both Android and iOS have published about 10 times more apps than Windows Phone so far, he said, though the two rivals have been offering downloadable apps since 2008.
Got an Apple iPhone this Christmas? Well, you're doing pretty well for yourself. It may or may not be Santa Claus' smartphone of choice and you successfully avoided waiting in long lines as many Apple fanatics do once a year when a new iPhone launches.
But marketing and hype aside, the iPhone is one of the best smartphone lines on the market and each of the devices currently available -- the 3GS, the 4 and the 4S -- run iOS 5, the latest version of Apple's mobile operating system. With that in mind, here are five places to get started if you're a first time iPhone owner.
1. Photography apps: Apple's App Store (the only place you can get iPhone apps), with more than 140,000 apps available, is a major bragging right for the iPhone versus its competitors, but not all apps are created equal. However, no other smartphone platform can currently match the iPhone for slick apps that produce fun and artistic photos. The best place to start is likely Instagram, which combines a solid selection of filters to make photos look like they were shot on vintage film cameras and a social network of other users so you can see the world through other lenses. Hipstamatic is another popular choice, which takes the vintage filter approach to another level with the ability to mix and match digital lenses, flashes and film choices to create a more customized look than in Instagram. Another app, called SwankoLab, allows you to alter photos already taken using a simulated dark room.
2. Games: The iPhone is also arguably the best gaming smartphone out there and the choices here are plentiful. Angry Birds is one of the most popular games available on smartphones and is a good place to start. But other choices such as Robo Surf, Cut the Rope, Tiny Wings, Bumpy Road and Kosmo Spin are worth checking out too -- each combining unique art styles, enchanting soundtracks and simple touch screen controls. For those looking for a bit more of a gaming challenge, the third-person shooter Minigore and puzzle game Scribblenauts impress. The sword fighting games Infiniti Blade and Infiniti Blade II show what the iPhone is capable of with detailed 3-D graphics and fast-paced action.
3. Music: Apple's iTunes allows for easy music buying, but there are plenty of other music related apps worth checking out as well. Shazam can listen to and then identify thousands of songs. Band of the Day is a great way to discover new music. Soundtracking is a unique social networking app that allows you to share what you're listening to with others, as well as check out what tunes they like. And if you're a Spotify Premium subscriber, the Spotify app is a must.
4. Built-in Twitter: If you're a big Twitter user, as I am, or even if you're new to Twitter, you're likely going to appreciate that the social network is baked into iOS 5. Checking out a website you care to share in the iPhone's Safari web browser? You can tweet that directly from Safari without having to go and open up a Twitter app. Same goes for photos, videos and locations in the maps app.
5. Ask a friend: As always, talking to a buddy can generate suggestions that may line up with your interests on just about anything -- same goes here. Ask a friend who uses an iPhone what they like about the phone or available apps and you're bound to find something you may enjoy too.