Pioneer Could Radically Reinvent Car Audio With Their New AppRadio [Breaking]

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SAN FRANCISCO — We’ve just had a hands-on taste of what might be the future of car audio at an intimate press event in downtown San Francisco — and we think they’re on to something big.

At a secretive, intimate press event in downtown San Francisco, Pioneer showed off their new AppRadio, an aftermarket car audio head unit equipped with a capacitive touch screen that interfaces with the iPhone 4 or 4G iPod, and actually becomes the interface. The idea is that you’ll shove the iPhone or iPod in a glove compartment, and then engage in hands-free calling, play around with tracks — and even view access all the functions and selected apps like Pandora and MotionX GPS Drive — through the AppRadio, without having to touch your iDevice.

Right now, AppRadio is only compatible with the iPod controls, Google Maps and four third-party apps (besides Pandora and MotionX, it also works with Rdio — similar to Pandora in concept — and Inrix, the hugely popular, free real-time traffic app. But since the device is actually controlled through an app that sits on your iPhone/iPod, all that’s required for additional apps to become compatible is for their devs to release an update of the app that includes Pioneers AppRadio API.

Pioneer also seems to have paid serious attention to the issue of road safety. Ted Cardenas, Pioneer’s director of marketing and captain of the presser, harped on that fact throughout the presser, saying the idea was to “launch the apps and then really put the phone away.”  In fact, once connected, the iPhone/iPod’s screen is locked out unless the car’s parking brake is engaged.

Pioneer said the device will hit the market in late June, at under $500; though they were pretty noncommittal about who’s going to sell them. It’s also not really compatible right now with anything but the iPhone 4 and 4G iPod; it won’t play with the iPad or Android devices — though Cardenas hinted strongly that Android compatibility is coming.

And yes, we carved out a little hands-on time with the unit — check back tomorrow for the juicy first-impression details.