At CES last year, there was a lot of talk about integrating phones and cars, getting apps, and most of it never materialized. As expected, this year is no different, but in Toyota’s case, we’ll be seeing their working tech later this year, with some of the first 2012 model cars.

Toyota’s Entune is an entire dashboard with a built-in screen that connects via Bluetooth to your cellphone, regardless of the type of phone. It does this through downloadable apps, which have thus far been announced to release for iOS, Android, Blackberry, and some dumbphones. Entune basically acts as a browser app, meaning users start the car, Entune connects to your phone, and you start the app (assuming it wasn’t already running in the background).

By itself, Entune isn’t very impressive. But there are plenty of little things that make it interesting. It comes with five main apps: Bing, iHeartRadio, Pandora, MovieTickets and OpenTable, but isn’t limited to these five. All apps are integrated with the built-in GPS, so if you search for an address on Bing, buy tickets through MovieTickets or look for a restaurant with OpenTable, each app has the option to direct you directly to the GPS. That’s snazzy. It also works if you aren’t in the car. Say you’ve got dinner on your mind and find a place with OpenTable. Save the address and when you get in the car, it’ll automatically set the GPS to go to that location.

It’s pretty neat. I played with Entune a bit, and it doesn’t feel remarkable. It feels like a simplified smartphone, like the driving menu on Android OS. But how it connects searches to action – in this case to driving directions – is incredibly potent. And even in he horrible mess of Pepcom, where several thousand people were crammed into a giant room ruining wifi and cell networks, Entune managed to run off a single data network with just one bar.

That’s right, Entune runs entirely on your cellphone’s data plan, but don’t worry, it doesn’t hog data. You may need to upgrade your plan should you now use more data because the option is now available in a safe(r) manner. Another cool bit is upgrading requires nothing more than updating the app and connecting to Entune. Once the app updates on your phone, and connects to your car, it’ll update the firmware instantly. This also means there’s the chance for malicious activity through Bluetooth connections, as well as bugs ruining the driving experience, but Toyota is going through great lengths to make sure it all works perfectly. It’s not super exciting tech, but it is a bright future for motor vehicles.

James Pikover

Spawned in the horrendous heat of a Los Angeles winter, James was born with an incessant need to press buttons. Whether it was the car radio, doorbells on Halloween or lights, James pushed, pressed and prodded every button. No elevator was left unscathed, no building intercom was left un-rung, and no person he’s known has been left un-annoyed.