Pioneer&39's AppRadio integrates tightly with the user&39's connected smartphone and its apps.

(Credit: Pioneer)

Pioneer has been slowly adding iPhone app integration to its line of AVIC all-in-one receivers for the last two generations. First came PandoraLink, then Aha Radio and Motion-X GPS Drive in the latest generation. Today, Pioneer announced at an event in San Francisco that it's taking smartphone app integration to the next level with AppRadio: a standalone in-dash receiver that uses the iPhone and its apps as the primary source of for its audio and connectivity.

In a nutshell, AppRadio acts as a terminal, allowing users to interact with the apps and media stored on their smartphones, particularly Apple's iPhone 4 and iPod Touch devices. Pioneer has announced initial partnerships with four app developers: Motion-X GPS Drive, Rdio streaming music, Pandora Internet Radio, and Inrix Traffic. Users interact with these apps using AppRadio's capacitive touch screen (an industry first for an in-dash unit) via custom car-centric interfaces that are aimed at keeping the driver safe and distraction-free. For example, users can start navigation using Motion-X GPS Drive and then have the turn-by-turn directions mirrored on AppRadio's screen with spoken prompts coming through the car's speakers. Feature sets for some apps may also be culled to keep the driver from getting to focused on the touch screen--for example, station creation has been omitted from Pandora and search is disabled in Rdio.

The AppRadio&39's touch-screen display takes control of the Rdio app for iPhone, replicating most of its functionality.

(Credit: Antuan Goodwin/CNET)

After beginning a route on the smartphone, Motion-X GPS Drive can then use AppRadio&39's display to present interactive maps with turn-by-turn directions.

(Credit: Antuan Goodwin/CNET)

AppRadio will also be able to take advantage of the smartphone's Google Maps data, as well as utilize the iPhone's iPod-out function for navigating media stored locally on the iPhone. There's also a Bluetooth connection for hands-free calling, a GPS antenna that augments the smartphone's sometimes questionable location accuracy, an AM/FM radio, and a video input for use with an optional rearview camera. Curiously missing from the AppRadio mix is any sort of CD/DVD transport, a standard USB connection, and the now ubiquitous auxiliary audio input. Pioneer really wants to off-load most of AppRadio's functionality to the connected handset. So, if you're not a smartphone power user, this won't be the receiver for you.

I was a bit disappointed to see certain other popular smartphone platforms again left out in the cold in favor the iPhone, but then I noticed that Pioneer's Director of Marketing Ted Cardenas kept saying "smartphone" during the presentation where I expected him to say "iPhone." During the Q&A session that followed the presentation, Cardenas stated that "it's called AppRadio and not iPhoneRadio for an inferred reason. The system is updatable for future hardware and software needs..." Could this be Pioneer's wink-and-nod at future Android or BlackBerry compatibility for the AppRadio platform We think so. Ford has a similar application link technology as part of its Sync technology that works with Android phones using Bluetooth, so it conceivable that AppRadio could be upgraded to perform similarly. However, only time will tell.

The Pioneer AppRadio will be available in late June 2011 at an MSRP below $500.

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