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Honda Accord Becomes a Smartphone Accessory

Honda Accord Becomes a Smartphone Accessory
By Barry Levine

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Hungry? Coffee? Say the word and you'll soon be in luck. The just announced HondaLink system will allow drivers to find local eateries and other nearby locations, using its 'connected car' capabilities. HondaLink enables drivers to access digital content as easily as choosing a radio station, using voice recognition, in-dash or steering wheel controls.

Honda is taking another step toward making cars into streaming media players. On Wednesday, the car maker announced it would add an "in-vehicle connectivity system" to the Honda Accord, and eventually to other models.

In the fall, Honda will offer a HondaLink telematics system for the Accord, which the company described as "the first automotive OEM application" of Aha Radio software and streams. HondaLink will require a tethered Android smartphone or iPhone to stream Web-based information, including Internet radio, NPR podcasts, and downloads such as audiobooks, or to present ratings of nearby restaurants, such as from Yelp.

Like 'Choosing a Radio Station'

Vicki Poponi, assistant VP of product planning for American Honda, said in a statement that HondaLink allows "drivers to access digital content as easily as choosing a radio station." The content can be managed via voice recognition, steering wheel mounted controls, or in-dash audio system controls.

HondaLink will use a branded version of Aha Radio's software and software for management of these feeds. Aha packages content for mobile platforms, and the front-end in the car will live on the same touchscreen that also controls radio and navigational features.

Aha converts feeds such as Facebook's or Twitter's into audio streams listed under "stations" on the dashboard, while the car's GPS is used to orient the software as to what constitutes "nearby."

Hungry, Coffee

Location-based facilities are shown in conjunction with radio stations that have such labels as "Hungry," which attaches listings of restaurants on the dashboard, or "Coffee," which shows coffee shops. A restaurant or coffee shop listing can then be selected and sent to the car's navigation system, which will guide you to that destination.

Aha Radio offers thousands of Internet radio stations, such as Rhapsody or Slacker, thus adding more options to a car's AM, FM, or satellite radio possibilities. The HondaLink version of Aha is not as flexible as smartphone apps, however, so general Yelp searches or the ability to update Facebook status are not allowed.

A free HondaLink app is available for downloading to a smartphone. Favorites, such as radio stations, can be indicated on the smartphone, and the chosen selections then appear as presets on the car's screen.

In April, Honda's luxury brand, Acura, announced that its 2013 RLX would also incorporate Aha software. Aha is also available on Subaru and in other car lines, all of which use a smartphone as the feeder and controller -- rendering the car, essentially, as a smartphone peripheral. This also means that car owners do not need to sign up for a data plan just for their vehicle. The Aha service itself is free.

Verizon, which recently purchased Hughes Telematics, is also now engaging into what is being called the "connected car" industry. Aha is owned by Harman International, which announced its partnership with Honda at this year's Consumer Electronics Show in January.

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