High-tech hope for older cars: Pioneer NEX's touchscreen and app integration

LAS VEGAS—It's not that your car is old. It's just that unless it was purchased in the last few years, it probably lacks the infotainment, connectivity, and other tech that are fast becoming the norm on new cars. Most of the cars on the road in the United States, in fact, are similarly underdressed. Pioneer's new NEX infotainment products, announced Monday during CES 2014, offer a boost into the present day with 7-inch touchscreens (in 2-DIN, or double-height, form factors), customizable displays, and smartphone app integration. Available starting in the spring, we got a chance to check out the flagship AVIC-8000NEX at CES.

We slid into a sci-fi-styled mock cockpit, where the AVIC-8000NEX ($1400 SRP) was installed in a center stack. It offers the same capacitive touchscreen technology that you'd find on a smartphone (the four other, less expensive, NEX products have resistive touchscreens). While the icons for summoning the menus and returning to the home screen are static, some aspects of the display are customizable, including background images and the order of some icons.

App integration is the biggest news. Using Pioneer's AppRadio app, iOS and compatible Android devices can be connected to the system (a data-specific USB cable is required—most smartphones already use such a cable) and use compatible apps on the touchscreen. The app selection—currently, 15 are available for Android, and 20 for iPhone—includes music apps such as Pandora, and Rdio, as well as parking, maps, and location apps including Glympse and Parkopedia.

This doesn't sound like a lot of apps, but even the big automakers are taking it slowly with developing apps for cars because everyone is worried about driver distraction. While Ford's SYNC AppLink offers a few dozen apps and counting, Chrysler's Uconnect system had just two apps when we looked at it in December. Pioneer is actively seeking more app developers.

pioneer avic 8000nex 300dpi 5in jan 2014 Image: Pioneer

The Pioneer AVIC-8000NEX includes a capacitive touchscreen and a customizable interface.

Cruising around the touchscreen was pretty intuitive, and the system was a lot faster than what we've experienced on systems such as Ford's SYNC and Lexus Enform. In a pre-briefing with TechHive, Ted Cardenas, the vice president of marketing for Pioneer's Car Electronics division, noted that the NEX products have a new computer. "We’re still using an ARM-based processor," Cardenas said, "but much faster." While Cardenas would not divulge much more, he did say that all of Pioneer's past navigation systems ran Windows CE (remember that?), though not the new NEX systems. "You can probably guess what we’re using now," he said.

Mechanical fun that just might distract your kids in a pinch: Behind the AVIC-8000NEX touchscreen are slots for CDs and SD cards. You push an icon on the bottom of the touchscreen, and it lifts like a garage door to reveal the ports. Independent of port access, you can also angle the screen for better viewing if it's installed low on your dashboard.

As for navigation services, the four AVIC-named products (there's also a lower-end product called the AVH-4000NEX) will have embedded navigation data, and three of the four products will have access to traffic data as well (sent via the FM frequency). If you decide to subscribe to Pioneer's upcoming AVICSYNC app, you can augment the integrated traffic and navigation with further data from the cloud. Pricing has not yet been set for this app's subscription.

With Pioneer's NEX, older cars are getting more than a touchscreen. Pioneer's young app store is already bigger than what you can get from many major automakers' own systems, and in this rapidly developing world of connected cars, the apps will be the thing.

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