OnQ Blog

Automakers Take a Page From the Android Playbook

Sep 10, 2012

Qualcomm products mentioned within this post are offered by Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.

At Spark, we admire connected devices and we admire nice cars (most of us). Make that nice car a connected car and we’re thrilled. So we can’t tell you how ecstatic we were when Dave Gruber, director of developer product marketing for Black Duck Software, spoke at LinuxCon North America to compare and contrast the future of the automotive platform with Android.

In his presentation, Gruber reminded us of how our modern cars are essentially high-tech platforms loaded with computers and sensors, and that the head unit (HU) is not just a radio anymore. It’s actually the interface to the mobile computer/car, with its touchscreen, wireless connectivity (3G/4G, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi), GPS navigation and satellite radio services, text-to-speech capabilities, and cloud and app store access, just to name a few. This area of the car business is referred to as In-Vehicle-Infotainment (IVI)—a market that is expected to exceed $70 billion in 2012 and $80 billion in 2014, according to Accenture.

Gruber pointed to a number of challenges that automakers face, such as time to market. Specifically, automakers risk losing out to aftermarket consumer electronics (CE) makers that can offer more innovative add-on devices faster than automakers can incorporate and offer them as “built-in” features. Gruber said that the auto industry just isn’t geared for CE-type development cycles, which are usually six months versus the three years for autos. Another challenge (and it is a challenge, especially if you’re not a mobile phone industry native) is that consumers “just expect” their IVI systems to perform in a seamless, intuitive, and smartphone-like way. Automakers are experts in building cars and optimizing “big picture” consumer demands for performance, economy, luxury, utility, or some combination like this. Automakers’ native strengths do not lie in the finer nuances of touchscreen user habits or wireless connectivity.

That’s why many automakers are beginning to realize the need for a basic, open-source platform on which they can respond to new technological demands (often experienced on smartphones first) and build quickly. Taking a cue from the Android playbook, the auto industry looked to Linux and Android to create the Ginivi Alliance, whose goal is to shorten development cycles, accelerate time-to market, and reduce costs for companies developing IVI equipment and software. To achieve this, Ginivi “aims to align requirements, deliver reference implementations, offer certification programs, and foster a vibrant open-source IVI community,” according to the group’s website.

Ginivi’s members include a number of influential car manufacturers, first-tier equipment suppliers, and tech companies (including ARM, HTC, IBM, Qualcomm and Sierra Wireless)—many of whom you’ll recognize from the Android-driven Open Handset Alliance roster.

Of course, not all car manufacturers are using Linux directly or collaborating with the Ginivi Alliance to build their IVI systems. For instance, Mercedes Benz and Toyota have chosen to build their own systems while working with Apple and Samsung, respectively. 

Whether automakers join the Ginivi Alliance or form their own partnerships, auto buyers win in the long run. Because not only are automakers accelerating their development of IVI system and making the experience smartphone-like, the evolution of the IVI system is huge leap forward toward the ultimate goal of an Internet of Everything.