Expo Notes: Acura show its drive at Expo

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Editor’s Note: All this week, Macworld editors will report from the Macworld Expo show floor on meetings with Mac developers, new product announcements, and anything else that catches their eye.

Macworld Expo is a great experience—after all, where else can you see such a fine assortment of Mac, iPod, and iPhone hardware and software products? Everywhere you look, there’s something cool and interesting from Belkin, VMware, Canon, Omni Group, Adobe, Dr. Bott, LaCie, Brother, Acura… wait, Acura? Yes, that Acura; the ones who make the cars and SUVs. Located in the Moscone West hall, Acura is displaying its two SUVs, the RDX and the MDX, along with a very-cool American Le Mans Series race car. As you may be, I too was confused, and thought that perhaps they’d been told this was an auto show or something, so I dropped by their booth Thursday to ask why they were exhibiting.

The answer, in a nutshell, is that Acura views the Mac user as appreciative of advanced yet user-friendly technology, and the car maker saw this as a great chance to get its product in front of a lot of such Mac users. It wasn’t actively selling cars in any sense—merely trying to raise brand and model awareness among Mac users by demonstrating the cool technology within their SUVs.

Now you’re probably thinking that means some sort of really cool integrated iPod connection with song info on the cars’ displays, and playback controls in the wheel… but you’d be wrong, at least as of today. While there is an external connection for iPods (and other such devices), it’s simply an audio input. However, I was told that sometime before mid-year, a software upgrade would be made available that would fully integrate the iPod into the car’s audio system. There is Bluetooth, however, and it talks to the iPhone, making it easy to make hands-free calls in the vehicles.

What Acura was really showing was the SUVs’ advanced voice-controlled navigation and related systems. Even as a somewhat-jaded car nut (when Car & Driver, Road & Track, and Motor Trend all show up on the same day in my mailbox, it’s a good day!), I was impressed with the systems. You can basically do everything with your voice, never having to reach for a button while driving. In many cities (including San Francisco), the navigation system displays real-time traffic information, including the position of accidents. There’s also a huge list of “points of interest” for things such as restaurants, gas stations, parks, etc. Major freeway exits can be selected on the map, and the available points of interest at that exit are then shown onscreen. You can, of course, view the location of the points of interest at any time, not just around an exit.

But the most impressive portion of the demo was when they demonstrated how to find a place for dinner. The representative demonstrating the features said something along the lines of “Show me Italian restaurants,” and the navigation system popped up a list of such restaurants onscreen. She then said “number two,” and that restaurant was selected from the list, and a route to the restaurant was shown on the navigation display. If necessary, the phone number could also be dialed through your Bluetooth-connected iPhone. From a tech geek’s perspective, this was a very cool demonstration. Overall, the system and interface seemed well thought out and it seemed to work quite well.

Alas, when I inquired about receiving an MDX or RDX for review purposes, it seems they haven’t allocated any test units to Macworld—oddly, they’re all reserved for the automotive press. Ah well; perhaps once that iPod software is shipping…

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