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Apple to integrate smartphone apps in cars

Posted: 06 Mar 2014  Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Apple  iOS  CarPlay  automobile  iPhone 

During this year's Geneva Motor Show, Apple has unleashed CarPlay that the company describes as a tool to bring the iPhone user interface to the automobile dashboard. It will enable drivers to easily control iPhone apps "from the car's native interface" or "just push-and-hold the voice control button on the steering wheel to activate Siri."

With Apple's announcement, the naked ambition among smartphone vendors to get inside the car has become more evident than ever before. So is the eagerness of carmakers to associate their cars with the popular smartphone platform, at any cost. But the CarPlay announcement, lacking any technical information, raises more questions than answers, while it illustrates the confusing mess the automotive industry has precipitated when it comes to the in-vehicle integration of smartphone apps.

For starters, every carmaker today already has its own Human-Machine Interface (HMI) for its every model. Adding an Apple HMI (touchscreen, voice, steering wheels, etc.), or supporting a different HMI set via another smartphone (i.e. Google's Android, Microsoft, etc.) is no cake walk.

Unanswered questions include the modifications necessary in iOS apps to enable them on cars that support CarPlay, Egil Juliussen, principal analyst, Infotainment & ADAS, at IHS Automotive, told EE Times.

In fact, Apple's CarPlay announcement listed only a few apps dedicated for use inside the car. They include phone calls, maps, music and messaging by voice or touch.

More important, Juliussen said that it's not clear if Apple is making a software development kit (SDK) available for car OEMs. In order to accommodate Apple's CarPlay, Juliussen said, "I suspect that automakers are doing more modifications to their cars," and they need "something like an SDK" to make modification to their cars "relatively quickly."

Carmakers understand that a growing number of automotive-related software apps, whether directly written to their own cars or to smartphones are destined to change their cars' future.

On one hand, General Motors, armed with its own software development kit (SDK), is courting software developers to write unique automotive apps to GM cars. On the other, Ford is offering an SDK to software developers to write smartphone apps to be used in Ford cars.

Today, beyond what GM and Ford are independently doing, there are "four different approaches, at least in the United States, to bring smartphone apps inside the car," Juliussen explained.

First is through Apple's CarPlay; second is via MirrorLink (whose protocols were developed by the Car Connectivity Consortium); the third is through Android (Google-led Open Automotive Alliance); and finally, there's Aha Radio.

This diagram illustrates options available to carmakers in terms of how they can integrate smartphone apps inside their cars.

Smartphone apps integration options

Smartphone apps integration options (Source: IHS Automotive).

As complex as the integration of smartphone apps looks here, car OEMs are not likely to stop pursuing proprietary options offered by platform vendors such as Apple.

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