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Cadillac CUE tackles 'last frontier' for smartphones: Cars

Cadillac CUE tackles 'last frontier' for smartphones: Cars

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Cadillac is trying to outpace the competition with the interactive Cadillac User Experience, integrating smartphones to reinvigorate the in-car media center.

As more car manufacturers integrate smart capabilities and interactive media systems into automobiles, these platforms are really becoming defining traits for customers determining which cars to buy these days.

Cadillac is trying to outpace the competition with the new Cadillac User Experience, or simply referred to as CUE.

During a demo session in San Francisco on Tuesday, Cadillac rep Scott Fosgard described the automobile as "the last frontier" for smartphones. He continued that people need to be connected to the Web at both home and in the office, but now more consumers want to be connected in between too.

With that in mind, Fosgard remarked that Cadillac is also "reinventing infotainment" for the automobile. An example of that would be the integration of Pandora.

Although this is a common app on just about anything these days, it is integrated seamlessly with CUE across all dashboard screens in the car -- including one that only appears to the driver as a reflection on the windshield. Users can connect their smartphones (either via Bluetooth for Android or USB for iOS) and then stream using the phone's data plan.

But the key to that is not getting carried away with things. It's not necessary (nor safe, to say the least) to have too many distractions while driving. It might be great for passengers, but the driver shouldn't be concerned with frivolous bells and whistles while in transit.

Although I only spent limited time getting an overview of the system and observing it while in motion, the Cadillac CUE system actually does a pretty good job of getting over this hurdle. One example would be the aforementioned display that projects information on the lower left corner of the windshield, displaying only two stats at a time, such as speed and next-turn directions. (Note: This was almost impossible to photograph as it's fairly visible -- yet a tad faint -- to the driver but nearly non-existent to anyone else in the car.)

Certainly, there are numerous configuration options for the digital dashboard instrument cluster and the center stack where the 8-inch capacitive touchscreen sits with the main app menu. But those can both be customized while parked so the driver doesn't have to worry about them later.

When in park, the driver can take advantage of several graphically-enhanced yet vital apps covering the basics: maps/directions, weather, and the radio. Smartphone connectivity also plays a role here as CUE draws in the user's contacts for dialing directly from the car as well as for pulling up directions to a contact's address with just a few taps.

The system itself runs quite fast on a 3-core ARM processor, which Fosgard hailed as the fastest processor on any comparable in-car media service in the whole auto industry. Fosgard described it as powerful enough to process 1.2 billion commands per second.

To put it into one other perspective, he compared it to a 16-cylinder engine.

One of my favorite apps was actually about a subject that can be quite boring: weather. However, this is incredibly important for any drive, especially longer road trips.

By inputting the destination, CUE automatically generates how long it will take to get there and then displays the weather pattern by hour and major cities or towns along the way. This could be particularly useful in the winter so you have a better idea of just when and where it will start snowing so you can get on the road when its safest.

CUE already comes as a standard feature in the new 2013 Cadillac XTS. It will also be seen rolling out with the 2013 ATS later this year.

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Rachel King

Rachel King is a staff writer for ZDNet. Previously she worked for The Business Insider, FastCompany.com, CNN's San Francisco bureau and the U.S. Department of State. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in San Francisco.