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Clarion Upgrades Smartphone Connections

LAS VEGAS — Clarion is bringing enhanced control of iPhones and Android smartphones to its aftermarket head-unit selection at International CES, where it is also launching a record number of marine-audio products and expanding its selection of car subwoofers.

In smartphone-connectivity developments, the company is launching its first two head units with touchscreens that control select apps on iPhone 4 and 4S smartphones and on Android 4.0 and higher phones. The technology, called Smart Access, expands on technology launched in 2012 in the transportable $269-everyday Next Gate windshield-mounted iPhone controller, whose 7-inch touchscreen controls select iPhone apps on a USB-connected iPhone and plays back audio through an embedded speaker or through car stereos with 3.5mm aux in jack.

In other connected-smartphone advances, two Smart Access head units and two marine head units will be the company’s first four head units to select music stored on USB-connected Android phones by file name and file folder when the phones are in mass-storage mode.

Also, control of Pandora on a USB-connected iPhone will expand to the above four SKUs from one 2012 SKU.

The above four head units and one other in-dash multimedia model will, like select 2012 models, display metadata from the Internet-radio apps and from the music libraries of smartphones equipped with Bluetooth AVRCP 1.3.

In another change, Clarion for the first time is adding a port for the outboard universal SiriusXM tuner. The port appears on all new marine heads and all but one new audio head.

Smart Access technology will appear in two double- DIN head units: the $799-everyday NX603 A/V-navigation head and the $499-everyday mech-less FX503. They ship in the second quarter. Both feature 6.2-inch WVGA touchpanel that displays the GUI of compatible third-party and Clarion-provided iPhone-and Android apps running on the smartphones. The screens also display maps from two turn-by-turn navigation apps. The 14 controllable apps include a phone’s music library, hands-free phone calling, contacts and calendar as well as Twitter and Facebook apps designed for the car, weather, news, TuneIn Radio, Odyssesy and GPS Drive for turn-by-turn navigation, DashCommand to view engine data and Waze.

All of the apps, except but a phone’s music library, hands-free calling, contacts and calendar, are Cloudbased apps whose functionality is delivered by a Clarion server. All of the apps require the use of a Smart Access app on the smartphone.

For iPhones, Smart Access works only with iPhone 4 and 4S models, even those running iOS 6, but Smart Access doesn’t work with the iPhone 5.

For Smart Access connectivity to Android phones, the heads require the use of Android smartphones running Android 4.0 and higher. The Android phones also need either a MiniHDMI output or a Mobile High-definition Link (MHL)-enabled HDMI output, which takes the form of a MicroUSB on the phone. For MHL-enabled Android phones, the head units also require an MHL-to-HDMI adapter. The phones connect to the head units’ full-size rear-panel HDMI port.

The heads also use Bluetooth’s human interface device (HID) profile to wirelessly control the functions of Android apps.

For Android phones without the required outputs, the Smart Access head units will be among the company’s first four head units to select music stored on USB-connected Android phones by file name and file folder when the phones are in mass-storage mode. The other two soequipped heads are the CMS5 and CMD9 marine-audio heads.

Among the two Smart Access heads, the flagship $799-everyday NX603 navigation unit features playback of MP3/WMA audio files and MP4 video files on USB sticks and SD cards, a separate SD card slot for maps, new “highly animated” GUI, stereo Bluetooth, built-in and optional external hands-free microphone, rear USB, rear RCA and front-panel 3.5mm aux input, iPhone/iPod control via USB, control of Pandora on a USB-connected iPhone, Bluetooth AVRCP 1.3 for Bluetooth metadata display, and connection for the SiriusXM universal tuner.

The second Smart Access head unit is the $499-everyday mech-less FX503, a flagship multimedia head unit without CD/DVD playback but with USB and MicroSD card slot to play audio and video files, highly animated GUI, Bluetooth AVRCP 1.3, built-in and optional Bluetooth microphone, 3.5mm and rear RCA video in, Made for iPod/iPhone USB, rear USB and control of Pandora on a USB-connected iPhone.

Another new head unit for car is the $799-everyday NZ503 multimedia head unit, a single- DIN model with 7-inch motorized touchscreen that folds into the dash. Compared to the NZ501 that it replaces, the 503 adds SiriusXM universal-tuner port, control of Pandora on a USB-connected iPhone, and Bluetooth AVRCP 1.3 versus 1.1.

The fourth new car head unit is the mech-less FZ150, which brings down the opening price of a mech-less unit to an everyday $69. The FZ150 features MP3/WMA playback from CDs, USB sticks, SD cards and USB-connected Android phones, whose songs can be selected from the head unit by file folder and title when in mass-storage mode. The head also features 3.5mm aux in but doesn’t control USB-connected iPhones.

Marine audio: In marine audio, the company is launching four new head units, two Class D amps, two subs and five speaker pairs. They’re due late in the first quarter and in the middle of the second quarter.

All four heads control the Pandora app on a USB-connected iPhone, increasing the selection of marine heads with this feature from one in 2012. Two of the heads, the $449-everyday CMD9 with CD and the $499 CMS5 without CD, are the first marine heads to use Bluetooth’s serial port profile (SPP) to extend control of Pandora to more functions compared to Bluetooth AVRCP, which was available in one 2012 marine head. Both heads are also the company’s first heads in marine or car with Bluetooth AVRCP 1.4, which enables the wireless selection of iPhone 5-stored music by folder. One Sony phone also features AVRCP 1.4.

The marine heads include the $449-suggested CMD9, a 1.6-DIN AM/FM/CD that features CD, 2.8-inch color display, Bluetooth AVRCP 1.4, Bluetooth SPP, universal SiriusXM port with iTunes tagging, and two rear USB ports (one capable of charging iPods/iPhones and the other capable of charging iPads). The CMD9 is also compatible with the J1939 data bus on new boats, enabling the head unit’s display to appear on an OEM touchscreen that controls GPS, chart plotters and other boat systems.