Shifting connected cars to BYOD

The connected car brings intelligence for everything from traffic-aware navigation to collision avoidance, and perhaps ultimately autonomy. With the user interface displayed front and center in the car – the “center stack” – the field of design choices now includes almost all smartphone operating systems.

For the first decade of in-vehicle infotainment (IVI), the concept was about automaker branding, with unique functions and user interfaces built on popular embedded operating systems. With the recent entry of Apple and Google, now the approach may be shifting in favor of bring-your-own-device (BYOD) with a focus on integrating the user’s smartphone.

There are numerous operating system offerings for automotive, including many familiar names:

Microsoft had a significant head start with the product now known as Windows Embedded Automotive 7, from roots in Windows CE. Counting Ford SYNC, Kia UVO, and the Nissan Leaf among its wins, Microsoft paved the way for other entrants, with an estimated 7M vehicles.

QNX, a traditional embedded operating system long before acquisition by BlackBerry, has moved to the front quickly with QNX CAR in at least 20M vehicles, including models from Audi and BMW. QNX built an ecosystem of technology choices allowing automakers worldwide to tackle platform design – and may have just snagged Ford as a convert if unconfirmed reports are true.

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The GENIVI Alliance has created an open-source approach with an even more impressive roster of members, boiling down to efforts around three operating systems. Linux platform offerings come from Mentor Graphics, MontaVista, Ubuntu, and Wind River. Tizen, the resurrection of MeeGo now gaining traction in Samsung smartwatches and other devices, is backed by Intel in the automotive arena. Symphony Teleca is among the companies working with Android.

All that was underway pre-2014, before the big guys walked into the room. Google has created the Open Automotive Alliance, all about Android, but with few details yet. Apple has just formally launched CarPlay, creating direct integration between an iPhone 5s (or other Lightning-enabled device, the connection is surprisingly wired for now) and the center console, projecting a very iOS-like interface including Siri voice capability. Users are passionate about their phones, apps, and driving.

QNX was quick to point out they support Apple CarPlay, which raises an interesting wrinkle. With smartphone penetration in the US and Europe now over 60% and climbing, many drivers would probably prefer to bring their phone environment into the car, instead of having to deal with the automaker’s version of a user interface and applications. However, some drivers still aren’t smartphone-enabled, meaning the manufacturer must still put energy into creating their own user experience.

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The BYOD trend in automotive is now underway, and there is no going back. Automakers may find an initial halo effect from embracing brands, particularly Apple, but as this capability becomes widespread they will likely discover they have to be open to any popular device in order to not risk losing a vehicle sale. The definition of “open” in automotive has changed suddenly with the new entrants, with emphasis on end user choice and multi-integration instead of just the developer and reusable embedded code.

Another intriguing question now emerges: who bears the burden of mitigating distracted driving. The automakers were mostly able to skirt this issue, attributing problems to bad user behavior with a hands-on smartphone. By integrating more deeply, automakers simultaneously take on risk and opportunity – a good design achieved cooperatively may be able to capitalize on phone and vehicle features combined to reduce distraction. Drivers will naturally migrate if features such as text-to-voice are easier to use and reliable.

Developments to watch in shifting connected cars to BYOD:

  • How Apple and Google fare with specific platform offerings
  • What the response from QNX is, and if Intel is able to break in with Tizen
  • If Microsoft loses Ford, offers a new automotive platform, or exits
  • What automakers do about multi-integration of phones
  • If distracted driving behavior worsens or improves with more integration

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