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Web Exclusive: Automakers are creating apps for drivers behind the wheel

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(CNN) - When it comes to staying connected, smartphones have been in the driver's seat. Now, automakers are picking up the pace with apps and technology aimed at keeping drivers connected behind the wheel.

Smartphones do a lot to get us where we need to go. They assist us with directions, and maybe some roadside assistance. But for the most part, the phone works separately from the dashboard. The new trend in auto industry is to change that.  

"The focus of this car really showcases how consumer electronics are influencing the drive. So we're seeing for the first time, things integrated that we've never seen in a car before."  

QNX software says they've created a "connected cockpit" inside a Bentley. It's  a curved touch screen that can display tweets and emails, navigation instructions right behind the wheel, and a web app that lets drivers lock doors or check the gas tank from their smartphone. The company says, it could be adapted to any price point.

Expanding dashboard technology is the goal of a program launched by Ford at the International Consumer Electronics Show. They invited outside developers to take a crack at adding in-car apps to the automaker's sync applink platform.  

"We know that consumers are reaching for their smartphones when their in-vehicle technology doesn't meet their needs. So we want to give them the opportunity to control their applications hands-free, and in a voice-activated way."

A key challenge for any connected car is having access to a new range of safety, entertainment and communication options, without creating too many additional distractions.  

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