How MirrorLink Works

Putting the "Mirror" in MirrorLink ... and the "Link"

From a user's standpoint, MirrorLink is pretty slick. You get into your car with your smartphone, which you do all the time anyway, then plug the phone into the infotainment system with a USB cable, which you also likely have already. MirrorLink is the magic that makes the phone's computer and the car's computer talk to each other.

Once everything is all hooked up, you can use the buttons in the center console and even the buttons on the steering wheel to control your phone. And -- And! Your car charges the phone while it's plugged in. Your texts will be read to you, and your all-ABBA playlist on Spotify is ready to rock. Or whatever it is that ABBA does.

There are a couple of sticking points. One is the infotainment center. Lots of cars have them installed at the factory; many more do not. If you're dying to hook your stuff up using MirrorLink, only a few receivers work, and those will only fit newish cars. (For the car-audio nerds in the house, you need DIN 7x2 or double DIN 7x4.)

Though MirrorLink is a mere toddler on the tech scene, Alpine, Sony and JVC already make in-car devices that use the protocol, and Nokia and Samsung Galaxy SIII phones will work with it, too. More than 80 percent of automakers and 70 percent of smartphone vendors (as of press time) have been approved by MirrorLink, so it's only a matter of time before your car and your phone are talking behind your back.

Once you've got the smartphone and the proper receiver, there's still one more caveat: Only approved apps can be used. And that doesn't mean those approved by you -- so no Fruit Ninja games or "Gangnam Style" videos on YouTube while the wheels are rolling. Only apps tested and approved by the CCC -- the group that invented MirrorLink, remember -- will work with the in-car interface and all the controls. But the good folks at the CCC expect to see "spoken-word news feeds, voice-activated social media status updates, GPS-enabled automated location check-ins and more -- the sky is the limit."

All this testing is rigorous, but it doesn't take long. A device can be approved in under a week, and an app in "a couple weeks," the CCC said.