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These apps will help your car save gas, find parking—and tweet

AP Photo / J.D. Pooley
Diva Dashboard: Cars at the auto show in Detroit feature new safety applications and entertainment functions.
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

DETROIT, Michigan—Expect your car and your smart phone to get very intimate, very soon.

At the North American International Auto Show, car companies have been previewing concept cars and new models with tools and open-to-anyone mobile applications. Earlier this month, at the Consumer Electronics Show, Ford and General Motors both unveiled strategies to create more connected cars.

Ford’s strategy relies on smartphones as the brains for the new apps to be created by developers, according to TechCrunch. GM favors a built-in system to run apps. Here’s a look at some of the specific innovations in this space:

Social media. Yes you can tweet while you drive down the street. Scion offers the BeSpoke system to its higher-priced Pioneer entertainment systems. It connects to iPhones, and allows drivers to view their Facebook wall and selected tweets while parked, and post social media updates using voice commands. A streaming audio system allows some drivers with certain iPads and devices to hear the content through the car’s sound system.

Safety. New cars increasingly will be equipped with cameras—both pointing forward and over the back bumper. Then drivers who have downloaded lane-keeping apps will be notified if their car is straying out of their line. A New Scientist piece describes how these may work, and suggests they could be common within two or three years.

Fuel-efficiency. Ford is working with developers on a “traffic jam assist” app that could partially take over steering and brakes in stop-and-go traffic, Allan Hall, Ford’s technology communications manager, told Quartz. This would improve safety—and fuel efficiency. Other automakers are hoping for apps that tell drivers if they are driving in ways that burn more fuel, or if their car needs servicing.

Convenience. Ford likes the BeCouply app, which won at a Hackathon last year and helps people find dates or activities nearby. Some other possibilities: apps that seek parking spaces and landmarks along your route, or turn up your thermostat when you’re near home, according to a Forbes article.

Weather.  The Weather Channel has agreed to provide weather information for some 2014 Toyota models and create an app for GM’s framework.

Entertainment. Yet just about every automaker from every continent has developed new in-car entertainment functions that use smartphones or other tools to bring social media, traffic and routing apps, among other features, to drivers who want immediate information.  Some features are only functional when the car is in park, so the driver cannot try to play a game while heading down the highway.  “This is not to play Angry Birds,” said Ford’s Hall.

In many cases, designers plan for the apps to sit right on the car’s dashboard.

GM and Ford hope to replicate Apple’s same deep connection to consumers by offering more apps to “enhance the driving experience and allow digital consumers to stay connected in their cars,” technology analyst Ron Enderle told Forbes, adding:”In theory, the apps you like would migrate with you when you buy your next car.”

A few car companies are offering an all-in-one packages, some of which come with a monthly service fee. But most are going to use voice recognition software and an interface along with the car owner’s phone. Kia Motors is installing Microsoft’s UVO, an “infotainment system” that connects car and phone to notify 911 if there’s a crash, monitor and remind of scheduled maintenance—and stream music. It also allows you to send Twitter updates by speaking. “It’s like the second living room,” said Ralph Tjoa, Kia’s national manager of car product planning. “People always want more of everything.”

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