It has a bigger screen than Apple's IPad, its screen's pixel rating is 1280 x 480 (VGA level) with high color definition, and it comes with a suite of voice-controlled, cloud-based apps. Is it the latest tablet computer? Well, in a sense it is, but this 12.3-in screen tablet is firmly mounted in the center of the dashboard on the 2013 Lexus GS and LX models, which will be on the market in February.
Gradually the big screen will be going into other models, and by the fall will be available across the board on the Lexus line. It's the largest automotive infotainment screen to date, beyond the 8.4-in monitor in Chrysler's PowerNet, even larger than the 10-in tablet size that has been shown in some concept cars.
Although it's physically a single screen, the new Lexus display usually is split, with a primary 8.0-in section and a secondary 4.3-in section. There is some flexibility in how, and in which section, the driver can position some functions, but the larger, primary one is for such features as the navigation display, the night vision screen, or one of the sub-menus such as information choices (audio, traffic, fuel consumption, and apps). When the 8.0-in section is in use, as for navigation, the 4.3-in section can be displaying audio selections, climate control, and/or trip computer data. When the navi system and night vision are off, the primary section might be set for something else, such as to show a climate control panel.
The apps are in a suite that is basically an upgrade to Lexus Enform, the embedded system which provides such features as call center access for driving directions, Lexus Insider (content for Lexus owners), and eDestination (travel data transfer from PC or smartphone to the vehicle's data communication module).
The suite, called Enform 2.0, must first be downloaded into a compatible smartphone (IPhone, Blackberry, or Android). There are seven apps for openers: Microsoft's Bing search engine, Pandora Internet radio, Facebook Places, Open Table (restaurants and reservations), Yelp (reviews of businesses of all types, by city), Movie Tickets (theater locations, movie times, reviews, and for some theaters, ticket purchase capability), and I-Heart Radio (access to driver's hometown radio stations when away from home listening area).
The smartphone next is linked to the vehicle's data communication module via Bluetooth, and then the data module downloads the apps. Access to the cloud for data is through 3G or 4G service on the smartphone, so such continuous-use apps as Pandora could impact limits in data plans.
The suite, available for vehicle download and used in the continental U.S. and Alaska, is controlled by a next-generation version of the VoiceBox recognition system that Lexus has been using. VoiceBox's signature technology is its understanding of conversational speech. In response to an AEI test asking, "Where's the nearest Subway?" (in a New York accent), the system produced a list of the sandwich shops with mileage to each and separate buttons to click for driving directions.
App updates go from the cloud to the smartphone, which bring up "do you wish" queries, and if accepted the changes go through to the vehicle's data communication module. The Enform 2.0 system has capacity for up to 20-30 apps, according to Kevin Pratt of Lexus College, the product training group.
Sirius XM, which requires a special subscription, provides fuel and stock prices, sports, and weather.
The navigation system continues to access data in an in-dash 40-GB hard drive, with Navteq software that can be upgraded annually at the dealer.
The screen's feature selection controller is a flat-knob sliding type, replacing the orbital design, and instead of a separate enter/select switch, the driver simply presses down on the knob, like clicking on a mouse.