For years already, some drivers who seek out the latest and greatest in technology have been talking to their cars when they want to listen to music, turn up the air conditioner or get directions.
No need to look away from the road or blindly reach for a knob or button, just speak a command aloud and the car obeys.
Voice recognition and other high-tech features are expected to become far more mainstream in the months and years ahead, as automakers race to outdo each other and tap into consumer demand for an app-inspired, always-connected lifestyle on the road.
CD players have been replaced by hard drives that can store tens of thousands of MP3s, or drivers can connect a smartphone and use its data connection to stream music via the Internet. Dedicated GPS navigation systems are being phased out in favour of multifunction digital panels that look like a smartphone or tablet homescreen, populated with a long list of apps.
“Automakers are trying to replicate that smartphone/ touchscreen experience that people are used to and like,” says industry analyst and consultant Doug Newcomb.
“Car buyers really want this, that’s why automakers are doing it, technology really helps them sell cars.”
Perhaps there was no clearer sign that companies are serious about competing to develop the coolest, most advanced in-car technology than an Apple announcement in June. The tech giant revealed it’s working with nine automakers to integrate its popular voice-recognition tool Siri into vehicles.
Meanwhile, BMW and Honda are among the car manufacturers that are releasing new in-car technology in Canada this fall.
And at the forefront of the trend has been Ford, one of the more aggressive companies in delivering in-car voice technology to the mass market with its Sync product, which has already been around for about five years.
With Sync, drivers can press a button on the steering wheel and voice their desire to place a phone call, control the stereo, make their vehicle warmer or cooler, or get directions. Ford claims the system recognizes 10,000 different commands – although there’s no master list available to consumers so that’s difficult to verify.