Monday, Jan. 12, 2009 | 2:28 p.m.
Looking behind the scenes with a Best of CES award winner is fun. The whole team at Gracenote was excited about winning in the Car Technology category. Gracenote, whose corporate headquarters is in Emeryville, Calif., is a wholly owned subsidiary of Sony Corporation of America, giving them many international ties. For them, CES is not really a situation where they are driving traffic to their booth to generate new customer leads. Rather, their CES agenda is set in advance with more than 95 percent of their meetings being booked prior to the start of the show. So, for them, taking an award in the car technology category was not a driving force behind their displays at CES. In many ways this made the win that much sweeter for the team involved, both personally and professionally.
So what exactly does a win in the Car Tech category mean? According to CNET and CES, it means they have "bragging rights" for that category for a whole year. And bragging rights they shall have. Not only did Gracenote beat the other finalists of AT&T and Microsoft, they also beat the entire hall full of car tech entries. For a company that came from a music database background that is quite the accomplishment.
What exactly was their winning product? Well, officially called CarStars, the application is really bringing a suite of existing Gracenote products and Voxonic's VOX technology into the automobile. Built upon Playlist Plus, MusicID®, and the MediaVOCS™, and Voxonic's VOX, CarStars is unlike other products on the market that try to integrate multiple functions into a single device or UI.
The technical data is all fine and dandy, but how does it feel? Put simply, CarStars is much like the iPhone of the personalized in-car digital media experience. The UI demonstrated in the Nissan Altima pictured on the right was extremely intuitive, and all of the buttons on the touch screen are easy enough to read and find even while you are driving. This is a key point that was reiterated by several of the differing Gracenote product demonstrations, safety in use. While safety is not really an issue in the home applications, it is for the automotive side. Sitting back and letting Gracenote put together a playlist for you based on their database of music genre correlations allows the user to have a radio like experience with their own library. Beyond the standard Gracenote correlations, one can use the celebrity guide to generate a playlist. Gracenote has the musical preferences of celebrities such as Mims, Nick Ashford, and Musiq Soulchild on file to generate a playlist from a user's own library based on the particular celebrity's preferences.
Gracenote tossed in features like Omnifone's unlimited music service, grabbing geographic data from the navigation system, and Voxonic's VOX as bells and whistles to the demonstration. The Omnifone service provides a limitless music library that can be accessed on any device a user has that plays music. The geographic data allows the celebrity to suggest altered playlists for areas such as driving near the beach. And the Voxonic VOX feature feels like the StarTrek universal translator was hidden in the dashboard as the celebrity guide can be heard speaking the user's language of choice. This was a true testament to the VOX technology, and the engineers at Gracenote that assembled the interface for this demonstration.