In the past 18 months, Kia has introduced five all new vehicles, the 2011 Kia Sportage is the most recent addition. But with the Sportage, Kia is proving they're not relying solely on dancing hamster ads or bargain basement prices. The introduction of the company's UVO voice control system is just one example of how price might soon be a secondary consideration for potential Kia customers.
UVO is short for "Your Voice" and it functions much like Ford's groundbreaking Sync system. Like Sync, UVO is powered by Microsoft's Windows Embedded platform. And that's where the similarities end, many carmakers can use Windows Embedded but each then develops or contracts with another company for things like the voice, command prompts and features. UVO allows access to phone and music but gets extra tech-geek bonus points for offering two USB ports, the ability to verbally cue up songs from its internal hard drive, iPod, memory stick or indexed songs from the five disc CD changer. For example, you can press a button and say out loud "Play Arcade Fire" and it will search your connected or loaded media for tracks by that band.
The two USB ports mean you can connect two iPods (or Zune etc). The system allows you to name your portable device and then recognizes that name. The benefit is that you can connect the two devices simultaneously, say on a road trip, and then access music from each by saying the given name out loud. You can also make and receive phone calls and have text messages read out loud and reply to text messages with pre-programmed responses like "can't talk now."
To give UVO a little bit of an edge, Kia has decided to bundle UVO with other features making more of a technology package rather than a standalone feature. When UVO becomes available later this year on the 2011 Kia Sportage it will include a 1 gig hard drive, 4.3 inch color monitor (shows album art and song titles) plus a rear parking camera. Kia hasn't announced pricing yet but due to the extra features, UVO may end up being more expensive than Ford's basic Sync system which is about $400. The biggest challenge for Kia is not the system itself, UVO seems to hit all the right notes and certainly Kia has a fairly young and tech savvy customer base. The challenge for Kia will be letting potential customers know that they even have something as technologically advanced as UVO.