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Urged on by the popularity of the Ford Sync, OEM integration companies such as Scoshe, Blitzsafe and others are developing the next generation of integration products — add-on "intelligent" voice control.
Blitzsafe said it has already developed a voice-control system for CAN-bus vehicles that offers intelligent or "natural" voice command of music on iPods and cellphones, and also controls cellphone calling, door lock and unlock and other features. Scosche said it may add intelligent voice control to its latest Bluetooth kit, called BlueFusion, in the future.
Metra said it will offer a kit for the Ford Sync in the next 30 days that will let an aftermarket radio take advantage of the Ford Sync's voice control (see story, right).
Some industry members believe that voice control will be the future interface of electronics in the automobile. Said Mike Hedge, marketing and communications VP for Parrot, "It is the only thing that makes sense so you can avoid some distraction while you are driving. One of the big concerns of the auto industry itself is exactly that. How do you integrate in a vehicle the kinds of features consumers apparently want without getting their focus off their primary task of driving? What's the user interface that is safe, convenient and easy? And the answer has got to be voice — even more than touch screen."
Voice-control Bluetooth kits already exist but many require users to train the system to recognize their voice. Sometimes the user must read aloud each name in their phone book several times for such training. Ford's Sync, however, and a spate of newer products to follow, including the new Pioneer AVIC-F series and Mitek's Civita, responds to natural speech out of the box.
"Sync opened the door a little bit for us. It showed us there's demand. Yes, [voice activation is] still expensive, but now that it's happened, it's opened up a door to more sales and to costs coming down," said SoundGate national sales manager Chet Weddle
SoundGate said it is not yet working on a voice-recognition kit, but Weddle noted, "As the recognition gets better, it will become more usable and less expensive, and I think we'll be able to capitalize on it. It's not something we're doing now, but it's a direction we're open to."
Scosche says it is looking at adding natural voice control in 2009 to its BlueFusion kits designed for factory radios. The kits allow music streaming from a phone and hands-free calling through a factory radio.
Blitzsafe said it has a kit for "total" voice integration that can work with General Motors, Ford, Toyota and Honda vehicles. It uses natural voice commands to access music on MP3 players and most Bluetooth cellphones. Voice commands also change modes, place and manage calls, lock and unlock doors, announce ambient temperature and manage other features. BlitzSafe says the system requires one to three wires to install. No pricing has been set.
At present, iPod integration remains the leading focus of integration-kit makers, and sales in this category are expected to continue to gain for the next two to five years.
Scosche's iPod integration sales were up 70 percent for the first quarter over the same period last year, and Precision Interface Electronics (PIE) said its sales are up 20 percent to 30 percent.
"Consumers are still catching up to the knowledge that you can integrate iPods into the vehicle. It will be a growing market for the next four to five years before it starts to trend down," said PIE national sales manager Kevin Allen.
According to the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), OEM integration kits of all types (including cassette adapters, FM modulators, Bluetooth integration kits, and general harnesses and adapters) will see steady gains through at least 2010. CEA expects 36 percent growth in integration this year, followed by 13 percent growth in 2009 and 18 percent growth in 2010.
Total sales of OEM integration will increase from $1.1 billion in 2007 to $1.5 billion this year and to $2 billion in 2010, CEA forecast.
Bluetooth kits are also expected to continue to grow, especially as California and Washington laws requiring hands-free phone use while driving go into effect on July 1.
California has a population of 38 million people and 16 million licensed drivers, said Parrot's Mike Hedge who believes other states will follow suit. "California is always the bellwether state. When it adopts state regulation, other states take notice. And just because of the sheer number of people, it could cause a nice blip [in sales] for the industry." Other states with hands-free driving laws include Connecticut, New York and New Jersey. Cities that have such regulations include Detroit, Chicago, Santa Fe, N.M., and Washington D.C.
The industry also continues to struggle with the large number of integration devices available and the complexity of matching them with the proper cars and radios.
Suppliers believe the market will follow in the path of the security industry, where flash upgrading will become common. The goal, already implemented to some measure by a few suppliers, is to allow dealers to flash-upgrade installation kits via a PC so the kits can fit a wider array of vehicles and be upgraded to accommodate newer vehicles as they are introduced.
Among the new integration kits heading for the market this season are a USB interface kit from Metra and the BlueFusion from Scosche.
Metra plans to introduce in June a USB interface that works with factory radios. It would allow consumers to add iPods (with a USB cable) or USB flash drives to their sounds system. It would link with the CD changer or satellite radio port or rear auxiliary input of the radio (while retaining all features) and would include a USB jack that could be installed under the dash, on the side of a console or elsewhere.
Scosche's BlueFusion is its first Bluetooth hands-free calling/and audio system to work with factory radios will ship in July. The kit wirelessly streams music from cellphones and allows hands-free calling regardless of the mode the factory radio is in at the time. Caller ID is displayed on the factory screen with "answer" and "end call" buttons located on the steering wheel controls or on buttons on the radio. BlueFusion will initially be available for General Motors and Honda vehicles, followed by Ford and Nissan models. Suggested retail is $399.Voice-Control Capabilities
|iPod||Cell calling||Cell music||Cell text messages||Mode changes||USB device|
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