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iPhone Apps Go Beyond Car GPS

A spate of new iPhone apps and kits due later this year and at International CES in January could raise the profile of the smartphone in car electronics.

An app that remote starts your car from a smartphone, one that tells you why your Check Engine light went on, and one that reveals the price of gas three days from now so you can decide whether it’s time to fill up are among the apps to be shown by Seattle-based UIE Automotive at CES in conjunction with car makers and possibly aftermarket suppliers, it said. Several of the apps are scheduled for release in the first half 2010.

Also, Kensington announced this month a car cradle for the iPhone that amplifies its sound to increase the volume when the iPhone is used for navigation (see p. 26). And Pioneer announced an app that allows users to send info from Google Maps to Pioneer’s in-dash navigation units.

Alpine also told TWICE it has partnered with other companies to offer an iPhone app and/or add-on module at CES, and Directed Electronics said an iPhone app is on its roadmap.

Sirius XM, TomTom and Navigon have also launched iPhone apps and are about to launch iPhone car kits.

Alpine marketing VP Steve Witt said of the smartphone in the car, “Yes, it’s a game changer. It’s all about this dramatic shift from the hardware where the device is the key to the software, which is the app.”

UIE Automotive offers a MyCar platform that allows companies to create apps for almost any smartphone, including an iPhone, BlackBerry, and Palm device. It works with GM’s OnStar modems or any modem linked to a car’s CAN bus system. Apps may also work with Bluetooth car radios, such as those found in the Ford Sync.

If a car has a modem and offers remote start, an app will be able to remote start the car, said GM and VP of UIE Automotive Stephen Fishburn. Apps will also be able to perform remote diagnostics when your Check Engine light goes on.

There are 40 to 50 problems a Check Engine light may indicate. “We can tell you your oxygen sensor is failing and this is not a priority thing, or we can say your engine timing is seriously off and you need to stop driving,” said Fishburn.

The gas-price app uses algorithms to predict future gas prices up to a week in advance. All three of these apps are expected to be offered in the second half and unveiled at a hotel suite during CES. The apps will work across all smartphone platforms and some of the apps could be branded under car makers’ names.

Other apps planned include one that predicts traffic up to an hour in advance, so if traffic is slowing, you can see if it should clear 15 minutes from now, as well as a teen tracking app, said Fishburn.