About those USB ports

One of the popular ideas in the Design Your Own 9-5 entry was the inclusion of USB ports in the car in order to connect electronic devices to the car, primarily music players.

There were problems noted with the idea, notably the possible need for drivers to run the devices and the possibility of obsolescence. To me, though, it sounds like a very good idea provided it can be done right.

Some of you will quite possibly already know this, but several cars from the Fiat Group are already running such a system. It was developed in conjunction with Microsoft and it’s called Blue&Me.

The press release about it from Alfa Romeo is below, and you can click here to see their little demo piece.


Fiat Auto will present Blue&MeTM based on Windows Mobile™ for Automotive as a world premiere, alongside executives from Microsoft’s Automotive Business Unit, at the Geneva Motorshow 2006 (February, 28).

This is the first step in the long-term strategic industrial partnership signed in July 2004 with the objective to co-design innovative automotive telematics systems.
Blue&MeTM changes the paradigms of communication and car infotainment. It is a new system, easy to use, accessible and competitive that makes all trips more comfortable and safe.

The system will exclusively be available on new Fiat, Lancia and Alfa Romeo cars as well as on Fiat Light Commercial Vehicles. Grande Punto, Alfa Romeo 159, 159 Sportwagon, Brera and Spider will be equipped this spring, soon to be followed by the other models of Fiat Auto’s product range.

Fiat Auto’s Blue&MeTM based on Windows MobileTM for Automotive relies on an open system which is always up-to-date, upgradeable, and flexible. It is content modular, and can be matched with a wide service offer.

Instead of costly and rigid hardware, Fiat Auto and Microsoft – with the support of Magneti Marelli – will offer a platform that can be adapted to most mobile phones, digital media players and other mobile devices. The customer is free to change them with new models without compromising compatibility with the car.

Blue&MeTM guarantees maximum security levels and user-friendliness. The voice-activated system, the complete integration of steering wheel control buttons and information on the dashboard display will allow users to utilize any Bluetooth ® based mobile phone – also if this is in a pocket or handbag – without removing hands from the steering wheel.

Thanks to a modern voice-recognition system, no preliminary voice training is needed, and even incoming SMS are visualized and read.

Among audio functions, it is possible to listen to preferred music stored on a mobile phone, in the newest smart phones, and in MP3 readers or USB removable sticks. All this thanks to a USB port, in the glove box, which enables the connection to any digital device with the correspondent port.

The collaboration between Fiat and Microsoft allows Blue&MeTM to be based on an open platform, compatible with the largest number of devices such as mobile phones, Palms and MP3 players, with the real benefit of continuously catching up with market innovations, thus maintaining the perfect integration with the car at an entry-level price.

A further short-term evolution will offer a particularly simple and interactive navigation system, and access to a set of services among which are a personal assistant to check addresses, weather and traffic forecasts, satellite localization in case of theft, SOS, and other services currently under development.


This photo, courtesy of Psycho Dave in comments, shows a somewhat cheeky version of what the interface might look like….occasionally


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  1. Microsft again!

    Some day soon my fridge will email my car to tell it I am out of beer and send my car via Satnav to the nearest offlicence 🙂

    Be afraid! Although it could be handy at partys…

  2. BMW is now offering full ipod integration thru usb in the center console as an option, and any usb devices or thumb drives can be mounted as a hard drive and manipulated thru the idrive controller.

  3. Does that mean when the Bluse screen of death comes up my SAAB will stop working. No seriously this is agreat thing devil is in the detail. it would have to be easy to navigate and non distracting. unfortunatly that is not somethign microsoft does well at all.

  4. As Swade pointed out CHOICE is the important thing here.

    Personally, I don’t see why one would want to hook up their personal music player to their car stereo. You have to hassle with charging the unit (which admittedly USB would do), figuring out how to best mount the player itself out of the way, and futz with wires. But it seems to me like lots of people want to do this.

    Like I said personally (though I do own and use an iPod Nano) I’d rather leave the player at home and just take my music with me to the car. I would put it on a thumb drive (flash drive) and plug that into the stereo head unit. No wires. No charging. No figuring out where to mount the player so it won’t rattle around and get scratched-up.

    Here’s an article from early last year about how many aftermarket audio manufacturers (Kenwood, JVC, Clarion, Blaupunkt, and Alpine. Delphi is not mentioned…) are putting USB in their head units:

    But apparently with USB you have the choice of either using a flash drive (which I would do) or plugging-in your portable music player.

    Though this system in the Alfa from Microsoft claims to be very flexible, I noticed they specifically mentioned MP3 but not AAC (which is the format used in the world’s most ubiquitous music player, the iPod, from Microsoft rival Apple). I hope Microsoft isn’t trying to start a standards war where eventually Windows Mobile for Automobile favors WMA (Windows Media Audio, which Microsoft’s Zune player uses) files over other file formats…

    Sorry to sound so conspiratory, but I just plain don’t trust Microsoft… Funny how that error message in that picture is a Windows crash message. Good old Windows! They should have used Linux.

  5. What would you expect from MS. Very bad choice of OS. There are other solutions (not only Linux) that would easily solve the problem with drivers AND provide even more functionality to the infotainment (or what ever it’s called) and a lot of stuff that was mentioned in comments could be sorted out quite easily.

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