In the '90s, satellite radio and iPods weren't around. Only hardcore computer geeks were tweaking cars to add MP3 capability, and navigation systems were still only available as expensive in-dash systems,' remembered Edmunds.com Senior Technology Editor Doug Newcomb. 'Bluetooth hands-free phones were still years away and Bose was the best known of only a handful of premium car audio offerings.'
1. iPod Integration: We've come a long way from carrying around bulky multi-CD cases. Today drivers can bring along all their favorite music with a device that fits in a pocket and can be integrated with most vehicles.
2. MP3 File Access: Most stock radios now offer CD players that can read MP3-encoded discs that can store hundreds of tunes, and if a car has a Car DVD player then the number of songs that can fit on a disc goes up exponentially. Many cars now offer an aux-in for plugging in an MP3 player, and more vehicles now have a USB port or SD card slot for reading music files on flash media.
3. Bluetooth: Hands-free laws gave this emerging technology an added boost, and now that wireless music streaming is catching on with carmakers and consumers, Bluetooth is getting even more popular.
4. Satellite Radio: No one could have believed that radio could sound this good, offer this much variety, be largely commercial-free and not fade in the middle of nowhere.
5. High-End Branded Audio Systems: Good-sounding, name-brand OEM audio system from Bose, Infinity, Pioneer and others were available for years, but premium systems from Mark Levinson, Bang & Olufsen, B&W and others set a new benchmark during this decade.
6. Exterior Cameras: Backup cameras became popular in giant-size SUVs and have since proliferated in a variety of vehicles large and small.
7. Navigation: In just a few short years after portable nav systems debuted in the early part of the decade, with retail prices in excess of $1,000, they quickly became an inexpensive consumer electronics purchase. Now smartphone nav apps are further democratizing the availability of navigation.
8. Voice Activation: Until recently, voice activation was more of a gimmick and novelty, but in the past few years voice activation has become more accurate and reliable -- and available on more cars.
9. Ford Sync: Ford Sync deserves a place on this list for many reasons: for its reliable voice recognition, its affordability, its valuable services such as 911 Assist and Traffic, Directions and Information, and its easy upgradability that renders it seemingly timeless even as the car it is in ages.
10. Location-Based Services: Location-based services (LBS) help you get local fuel prices, traffic, weather reports, movie show times, sports scores and more, wherever you are.