Gadget and car manufacturers are predicting that 2011 will be the year of in-car computing, here at the CES tradeshow in Las Vegas, Nevada. PC Advisor has seen demonstrations of products from Toyota and Parrot that allow users to stay connected at the wheel. They offer web, apps, music and mobile connectivity to drivers and their passengers.

Toyota has this week unveiled the Toyota Entune multimedia system at the Consumer Electronics Show. The device synchs with a user's mobile phone to offer connectivty via voice recognition and a dashboard-mounted touchscreen. A Toyota spokesman told PC Advisor that because the driver doesn’t have to touch their mobile phone, this allows for safer access to all the capabilites that a smartphone endows.

Toyota Entune

Toyota Entune: the web, in your car

We saw a demonstration of a Toyota Entune interface. As well as 'traditional' dashboard-mounted satellite navigation, the demo device we saw offers Microsoft Bing web search, an OpenTable app that can make a reservation at one of 15,000 restaurants, and which, well, buys tickets for the flicks.

All utilise GPS capabilities to offer localised listings and recommendations. There's also a radio app that offers access via iheartradio to more than 750 stations (in the US, at least); personalised stations with Pandora; and 170 satellite radio channels. Toyota Entune also offers USB connectivity for portable media players and traditional terrestrial radio.

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Toyota Entune: safety

When we asked about the safety implications of having such content available via a tempting touchscreen in reach of the driver, a Toyota spokesman pointed out that drivers already have to hit a disclaimer every time they use a satnav device. "But we go further", he said.

"When the vehicle is in motion, the driver can interact only with certain features, and only by voice command," he explained. "The features are unlocked when the vehicle is traveling at less than five miles per hour - and you can't do much damage at 5mph!"

Any readers who have witnessed your author trying to parallel park may wish to disagree with this statement. The Entune device also offers breakdown assistance, and can track a vehicle if it is stolen. Toyota Entune will be available in "select vehicles this year", according to the spokesman.

Speaking about the launch of Toyota Entune, Toyota Vice President Jon Bucci said: “Consumers have grown accustomed to having the world at their fingertips through their mobile phones, and unlike other industry solutions, Entune allows the driver to interact with informative and entertaining mobile content without fumbling with their phone.  We offer features that our customers demand and integrate them seamlessly in the vehicle.”

Parrot Asteroid: web-connected car stereo

Also at the CES tradeshow, PC Advisor has seen the Parrot Asteroid. A 3.2in screen Google Android device that sits in the space a car radio would normally occupy, the Asteroid offers a digital music player with amplifier and subwoofer, and 3G connectivity via dongle or mobile phone synch.

The Asteroid offers traffic and satellite navigation services, music on demand and voice recognition to make calls from your smartphone's phone book. It also provides web search and apps via Google Android. A Parrot spokesman told PC Advisor that the Asteroid will be on sale "within weeks" and should cost "about the same as a high-end car stereo".

Parrot Asteroid