If you haven't driven a new vehicle lately, you owe it to yourself to take a test drive just to see the dashboard and the electronics 'winter wonderland' of lights, buttons, touch screens, and versatility the new vehicle's offer. We are not just talking about automobiles, we are talking about trucks – even big, heavy-duty ones. The interiors have become as luxurious as our living rooms with electronic that rival a small jet. There is generally a large touch screen, as seen above, where you can control just about every aspect of your vehicle's environment – temperature, heated seats, A/C, your complete entertainment from radio to Pandora to the playlist on your smartphone, phone calls, navigation, and so much more. Old-school, shown at the bottom of the article was pretty high-tech a few years back when we could sync our smartphone to our radio…but all of that has changed now and companies are in battle with the car manufacturers to use their touch screen systems.
Will there be a standard that all companies will adhere too or will their be several different systems that will cause havoc in the automobile industry? While most consumers would be happy to simply have their smartphone menu duplicated on the bigger touch screen of the car, it simply will not work. Current smartphones require a lot of your attention, multiple menus, and would be unsafe to use while driving. The user interface in a car needs to be much simpler and to the point – following guidelines and testing procedures to keep the driver's eyes off the road as little as possible. The other aspect that auto designers value is looks – just as the exterior design must be identifiable to the model, so does the interior design of the dashboard and console.
There are multiple players interested in this business – Ford started a partnership with Microsoft and developed SYNC that runs way on top of Windows and now powers Hyundai, Kia, and others. BlackBerry's QNX runs everything from nuclear power plants to jet fighters and has shown to be very reliable…so much so that Ford is considering switching over to QNX. Another major player is Linux and is supported by the Genivi Alliance – a consortium of auto manufacturers that include GM, BMW, Intel, Delphi and more. Many in-car smartphone connectivity, such as Toyota Entune, BMW Connect, Cadillac CUE, Ford Sync AppLink, are largely proprietary. If Pandora wants their app to play in every car on the road, they would have to write individual apps for each and every system. No automobile manufacturer solution has come close to establishing a standard. Luckily the consumer electronics industry is trying to narrow it down. Though started by Nokia back in 2010 as Terminal Mode, the newest rendition, called MirrorLink is a standard supported by the Car Connectivity Consortium with auto members such as GM, Honda, Hyundai, Toyota, and Volkswagen and smartphone members such as LG, Sony, HTC, and Samsung – the heavy hitters from both sides. If an app is approved safe by MirrorLink, they can be displayed on any car that uses MirrorLink – one app for all users.
Apple's system is called CarPlay and is very restrictive and you will be able to connect your iPhone 5, 5S, or 5C to your car and, not unlike MirrorLink, your phone's app shows on the screen. Right now, Apple's openness for developers seems to be restricted and only iHeartRadio, Spotify, and Beats are supported. Volvo is not showing much support, GM is taking a wait and see attitude to see what 'standard' wins out and in the meantime will try to work with all of them. Ford's support is not coming anytime soon as they believe their AppLink (which works with iOS apps) is good enough for now. What about Google? Despite building one of the best navigating maps in the world, they have largely stayed out of the automobile area, although that may soon change with the new Open Automotive Alliance (OAA) Automotive Link and initial members Audi, GM, Honda, And Hyundai. Apple's CarPlay is about as closed as you can get and MirrorLink is about as open as you can get – Google's Automotive Link sits somewhere in the middle. Even Ford seems optimistic about OAA's chances and we should learn more about it at the next Google I/O. If all goes according to plans, these three should all be 'standards' by the end of this year – at least we will get it narrowed down to three – which will be a good thing for all concerned.