Google, Apple join battle for infotainment management

  • 29-Aug-2014 10:02 EDT
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Tier 1s like Visteon are exploring ways that Android and CarPlay fit in infotainment systems.

The relationship between consumer electronics and automotive infotainment systems is intensifying as smart phone operating systems (OSs) become a factor in development strategies. Google’s Android Auto and Apple’s CarPlay are becoming players in the battle to manage a growing number of options controlled by radio head units.

The radios of decades past are rapidly morphing into complex infotainment systems that use at least one OS to manage many different technologies. Design teams are taking different strategies as they deploy multiple OSs.

In some programs, they may handle smaller sections such as streaming data and providing the human-machine interface, complementing existing automotive platforms. Google leads Apple in the global smartphone market share and it was first to focus on the automotive field, so its impact is greater at this early phase of the development cycle.

“Android Auto is a connectivity stack that allows the vehicle integrator the ability to connect a mobile device to any automotive audio/infotainment platform,” said Rob Cadena, Infotainment Manager and Technical Fellow at Visteon. “Some user connectivity apps like music streaming are well-suited for an Android environment. Traditional automotive features like cameras employ an OS that is independent of the Android system. Keeping vehicle and consumer features separate can be beneficial; if the consumer system encounters errors, the vehicle system won’t be impacted.”

In other design strategies, Android or CarPlay may become the primary OS. That’s partially because they bring a wealth of design tools and other supporting technologies and services.

“Android will compete directly with conventional automotive OSs,” said Michael O’Shea, CEO of Abalta Technologies. “Android brings a vast app developer ecosystem that none of the alternatives can provide.”

However, suppliers of automotive OSs contend that their platforms have grown up in this demanding environment. One key parameter is the ability to separate consumer technologies such as third party apps from mission-critical automotive systems. Another is compliance with industry standards for reliability and safety.

“We can guarantee separation, and we understand requirements like ISO 26262,” said Andrew Poliak, Global Director, Business Development at QNX Software Systems. “Multiple environments can run on top of the QNX CAR platform. People can use Android tools to develop software that runs on QNX CAR.”

Most OEMs are taking a close look at OSs before they commit. Consumer products companies don’t have the same level of safety and security focus as automakers, who must provide reliable products that run for years without reboots and temporary outages.

“When IT companies such as Google offer software or OSs that link cars to smartphones, we first assess their information security and safety while driving, and then we consider using these products,” said Toyota Motor Corp. spokesman Brian Lyons. “It is particularly important to ensure that in-vehicle systems cannot be hacked or disrupted by unauthorized users.”

As companies explore potential roles for smart phone technologies, they will also have to decide whether to pick one or deploy both OSs. Many vendors predict that Apple and Google will battle to gain market share in autos.

“Android Auto and Apple CarPlay will compete in a similar manner to how these two businesses compete in the mobile phone space,” Cadena said. “It’s likely that both companies will be ‘players’ as their systems start integrating with vehicles. As a result, auto suppliers and OEMs will need to be able to simultaneously support either system on the vehicle’s audio infotainment platform.”

That raises questions about how many platforms OEMs and Tier 1s can support. Alternatives including Genivi Linux, Microsoft Embedded Automotive, and QNX Car may see use, and it’s possible that other options will be employed as more apps and functions are embedded into radio head units.

“Each OS can present issues, and as each one is added the risk increases,” Cadena said. “Most automotive infotainment systems work with multiple phone OSs. The challenge at times can be for the in-vehicle OS to determine which type of mobile device is connected (Android or Apple) and the appropriate protocol to use. It is our belief that eventually only a few connectivity protocols will exist; the survivors will be the systems that are supported by the mobile device suppliers.”

Protocols link phones to infotainment systems, often copying the phone’s display onto the vehicle’s center stack display. There are a number of unique connectivity protocols on the market, such as AppLink, MirrorLink, WebLink, Livio Connect and MySpin, as well as Android Auto and CarPlay. When smart phone apps are projected onto vehicle displays, it’s more difficult to ensure that apps have been vetted to ensure that they won’t distract drivers or cause other problems.

“When you get into projection mode, there’s less control over what the phone allows you to do,” Poliak said. “Apple and Google are being cautious and working with OEMs to make sure they’re displaying apps that are relevant to the driving experience. Apps should be tuned for automotive environments. All OEMs are concerned about how much they need to give up control.”

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