Saturday, September 11, 2010

Smart phones impact automotive infotainment

EL SEGUNDO, INDIA: Already having impacted the automotive telephony, digital music and navigation segments, the smart phone is poised to have a greater influence on car infotainment systems in the future, according to the market research firm iSuppli Corp.

“Apple Inc.’s iPhone changed the smart phone from a communication-focused device to an application-centric, multi-purpose mobile platform that can span many industries,” said Egil Juliussen, principal analyst and fellow for automotive research at iSuppli.

“As a result, other smart phone platforms are rapidly following the iPhone’s lead by adding a multi-touch user interface, application development tools and App Stores in order to sell and distribute third-party applications. Together, these trends are enabling the smart phone to exert an increasing impact on multiple industries, including automotive infotainment.”

Automotive infotainment impact
Smart phones already have been responsible for several developments in automotive infotainment.

The first mobile phone and smart phone impact came from hands-free telephone systems interfaced to car headunits and connected via Bluetooth. Such Bluetooth systems have now become very popular and are available either as optional or standard equipment, with the systems present on 93 percent of model year 2010 vehicles in the United States and 75 percent of equivalent models in Western Europe.

For smart phones, nearly 100 percent of units sold have Bluetooth features, while more than 80 percent of all mobile phones sold worldwide come with Bluetooth, automotive market research from iSuppli shows.

The table shows how smart phones have impacted various infotainment segments.

iSuppli: Smart Phone Impact on Automotive Infotainment SystemsSource: iSuppli, USA.

The smart phone has also become a leading source of digital music that is played via headunit audio components. The connections are mostly implemented via USB interfaces, Bluetooth (A2DP) and iPod or auxiliary interfaces.

The iPhone is the main smart phone music source because of its embedded iPod functionality. Likewise, the smart phone is having a major impact on Portable Navigation Devices (PNDs) and on in-vehicle navigation systems. Off-board navigation service was the first area to be impacted, with both smart phones and select mobile phones using such services five years ago. The iPhone then became a major mobile navigation device in 2009, using both off-board and on-board navigation. Today, nearly all smart phones feature some navigation functionality at very competitive prices.

Navigating via phone
The next smart phone impact came with the introduction one year ago of free navigation functions on the Android operating system, a development that has caused the price of competing navigation devices to decline.

The PND is suffering the greatest impact out of such an occurrence, and its importance has peaked—with worldwide sales declining or projected to ramp down in most regions in the years to come. As a result, PND manufacturers are moving into the in-vehicle navigation segment with low-cost PND-based systems, which in turn is putting price pressure on the suppliers of traditional in-vehicle navigation systems.

Connected navigation functionality is also emerging thanks to smart phone data plans, and navigation features such as traffic information, traffic probes, destination download and mobile search are now possible. Furthermore, smart phone apps featuring Location Based Services are proliferating, with more than 6,000 now available for the iPhone.

Making footprints
The smart phone may be the agent of further impacts in the future, especially given the emergence of data plans and more headunit music sources, including Internet radio. Future infotainment hardware/software platforms may be based on smart phone hardware/software platforms, primarily Android, likely supplemented by the Genivi consortium’s MeeGo platform for Nokia high-end smart phones.

The smart phone also can act as a Customer Resource Management (CRM) tool for auto OEMs and their dealers. A growing number of auto-centric smart phone apps are focused on car activities, including OBDII-based apps such as remote control of door locks, windows, air conditioning and engine start. Most electric vehicles also might be able to avail of smart phone apps for reading and controlling key EV parameters as well as finding stations for recharging. Additional impacts are likely to emerge in the future.

Impact on automotive headunits
Within the vehicle, the automotive headunit similarly is being shaped by smart phone platforms, with the impacts occurring in four major ways—via digital music sources, navigation sources, auto application sources and future headunit platforms. Of the four, the last may exert the longest-term impact. Terminal Mode is an example of a headunit-to-smart phone interface that will render the smart phone display on the headunit display.

The fourth trend also relates to the future use of smart-phone-based platforms as the basis for the hardware/ software architecture of headunits. Android-based platforms with additional auto-specific Applications Programming Interfaces (APIs) are moving in this direction.

A long-term possibility also exists that the smart phone might become the computing and communication platform portion of the headunit. In such a case, the headunit would consist of mostly the Human-Machine Interface (HMI) as well as the interfaces to other auto systems.

Several potential advantages can be obtained from this approach. Upgrading functionality would become flexible—assuming a new smart phone could replace the old version. Presumably, the driver will be able to buy his preferred smart phone, which not only would lower the infotainment system price but also would remove part of the revenue opportunity for headunit and auto suppliers. Just the same, this might only be viable for entry-level vehicles in order to keep new car prices low. Time will tell if this will become a viable infotainment system strategy.

Source: iSuppli, USA.

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