The Auto PC, launched at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, brings Microsoft's Windows CE operating system into a whole new territory.
At the show, Microsoft introduced two new variants of Windows CE platform: the Palm PC, which is smaller than a handheld PC and does not have a keyboard, and the Auto PC, which fits into the space normally occupied by the car stereo.
The Auto PC is operated by voice commands, and responds with a synthetic voice, allowing drivers to keep their eyes on the road. It also has a numeric keyboard (used for radio station presets) and a small 256x64 pixel screen.
The device can provide the driver with navigation instructions and can access email via a wireless link-up. It can exchange data with other Windows CE devices using an infrared connection. Additionally, an Auto PC will offer digital audio as well as AM/FM radio and a CD audio/CD-Rom player.
The hardware specifications for the Auto PC include a 60Mips or higher processor running Windows CE 2.0, a minimum of 8Mbytes of Ram and 8Mbytes of Rom, an AM/FM tuner, a CD-Rom drive, a serial port and a Universal Serial Bus (USB) port. Options will include a GPS (global positioning system) receiver, a cellular phone docking cradle and a multi-CD changer.
Vendors working on Auto PC designs include Clarion, Daewoo and Samsung. Clarion is expected to be the first to market with an Auto PC, planned to go into mass production in June. The device will be based on a Hitachi SH3 processor. It will have a built-in 35Watt, four-channel amplifier, and an optional GPS system. The price for the base unit will be $1,299.
Auto PCs will be sold as add-ons to existing cars, but Microsoft said some cars will also be shipped with one preinstalled. Nissan, Volkswagen and Peugeot are planning cars with an Auto PC.
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