Print 38 comment(s) - last by Piiman.. on Jul 20 at 10:09 AM

There's a large disconnect between smartphone apps and vehicle software

There's a growing debate surrounding whether automakers should still offer embedded infotainment systems, or if mobile apps and smartphones should take the helm.

Infotainment systems, which are offered by many different auto companies, are typically embedded in the dashboard and offer navigation, entertainment and phone services via a touchscreen. 

While auto navigation systems offer beautiful graphics and larger screens, they have their faults. For starters, they're very pricey. These systems run anywhere from $500 to $2,000.

In addition, a lot of these systems run on pre-made DVDs instead of the Internet. This means that they don't run real-time updates, and to have this software updated means a time-consuming trip to the dealership.

Mobile apps found on smartphones, on the other hand, are cheap (and sometimes even free) and offer the same services as these infotainment systems. What's more is that they're constantly being updated so the driver has the most relevant information while on the road. 

The problem is obvious. Automakers can't keep their infotainment systems updated fast enough, and on top of that, many drivers are complaining that the systems don't always work properly -- hence, another trip to the dealership. Mobile apps, on the other hand, receive fixes from developers and are sent directly to the smartphone users' device. 

This information begs the question: should automakers keep offering their own infotainment systems, or just let drivers use their smartphone apps on the dashboard display?

Automakers will tell you that the infotainment software from their respective companies is deeply integrated into the very functions of the vehicle. Where smartphone apps are designed to apply to many vehicles and events, automakers create their software as a specific partner to that particular vehicle. 

Also, if a driver forgets their phone, they always have the infotainment software available right in their vehicle.

Ford said it will allow developers to create apps that work with the MyFord Touch infotainment system, but won't hand over full control of the system to developers -- and it doesn't see smartphones to be a full replacement. 

Others outside of the auto industry will say that automakers should stick to making cars while companies like Apple and Google should take care of the navigation, entertainment and communications.  

There's a disconnect between the software in cars and the software on smartphones, and automakers will have to attempt to bridge this gap if they want their systems to be successful -- or hand the keys to the tech companies.

Source: The Detroit News

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Just dock the damn thing.
By quiksilvr on 7/18/2013 11:35:06 AM , Rating: 5
Why not just dock a smartphone and just mirror it on a 7" screen in your car? Get a car app or whatever on your phone and dock it. That way you can do firmware updates via your phone. Seems like the simplest and logical solution to this problem.

RE: Just dock the damn thing.
By Mitch101 on 7/18/2013 12:37:41 PM , Rating: 3
Simpsons did it! - Kidding I saw south park recently.

Dash - The Smart phone Car Stereo

Neat idea since all you really need in the car is an amp of your mobile device.

RE: Just dock the damn thing.
By AlphaVirus on 7/18/2013 1:39:08 PM , Rating: 2
It was hard to watch that video, and the entire time I was thinking "Why would I want this versus FordTouch, or even a aftermarket in-dash with USB/Aux-to-phone."
The worst part about this idea is that majority of things are stuck in portrait mode so now you are turning your head sideways to read.

Also the obvious what do the millions of non-iPhone users do to use this?

RE: Just dock the damn thing.
By annabelle101 on 7/18/13, Rating: -1
RE: Just dock the damn thing.
By Samus on 7/18/13, Rating: 0
RE: Just dock the damn thing.
By PrinceGaz on 7/20/2013 10:05:41 AM , Rating: 1
Also the obvious what do the millions of non-iPhone users do to use this?

Simples: buy an iPhone :)

RE: Just dock the damn thing.
By BRB29 on 7/18/2013 1:53:19 PM , Rating: 3
Why not just dock a smartphone and just mirror it on a 7" screen in your car? Get a car app or whatever on your phone and dock it. That way you can do firmware updates via your phone. Seems like the simplest and logical solution to this problem.

Actually, what I don't understand is why they can't use an Ipad or any decent tablet as the starting point. Strip out everything they don't need like the camera or polished aluminum shell. Simplify the GUI even more since it's limited in functions and apps.

Seriously, an ipad, android tablet or even the expensive Win8 tablets are far better in performance and has a better screen. They can sell it at a cheaper price and make billions. These car companies are charging you 4x for an inferior "infotainment" system with laggy performance, cheap screens and frustrating UI.

Any infotainment system should not cost more than $1k. The average system should only cost 300-500 in economy cars.

RE: Just dock the damn thing.
By Micronite on 7/18/2013 6:00:00 PM , Rating: 2
Because an iPad or other tablet would take a massive amount of additional engineering to ever meet the automotive requirements on electronics. At that point, you have burned up the cost advantage.

Seriously, the best idea is to have a display that will wirelessly sync with your phone (like Bluetooth, but it would need to be beefier than Bluetooth). Then you don't have to make the phone automotive-standard worthy, just your small display and audio repeater.

RE: Just dock the damn thing.
By Azethoth on 7/19/2013 6:25:30 AM , Rating: 4
I have a kenwood touch panel thing. It is basically an iPad with a row of buttons at the bottom. Here is the big secret though: touch panels suck in a car. By suck I mean rotten donkey balls. They are unsafe as hell. They need constant looking at to home in on the touch area you want. Old style single purpose dials and knobs do not have that issue, you can find them by touch only if you want.

RE: Just dock the damn thing.
By Piiman on 7/20/2013 9:54:44 AM , Rating: 2
Too bad the story is about cars with SCREENS systems just like a tablet and not knobs and dials.

RE: Just dock the damn thing.
By marvdmartian on 7/18/2013 2:13:06 PM , Rating: 2
The problem might be with how to make the two systems "talk" to each other....and, in the case of Apple hardware, the fact that Apple might decide to change the docking connector again, and then you're dealing with new hardware and an old connector in a vehicle.

Isn't it Ford that's been working hand in hand with Microsoft? Sort of surprised no one has done a similar deal with Google, so that the system in the vehicle runs off of Android, and can download and utilize the same apps their phones use. Even if they only worked off of WiFi, it would be a step in the right direction.

RE: Just dock the damn thing.
By BRB29 on 7/18/2013 2:41:24 PM , Rating: 2
The problem might be with how to make the two systems "talk" to each other....and, in the case of Apple hardware...

That's not a problem because it won't use that connector. This is a gutted system to use in a car, not a standard for accessories and charging.

I'm just suggesting that they use what's been done right and tweak it for their needs, not use the whole system. If they do buy it from apple, it wouldn't be an actual ipad. It'll probably be just the parts needed, iOS GUI and the frame + screen in dimensions they need.

By inperfectdarkness on 7/19/2013 1:16:07 PM , Rating: 2
and while we're at it...let's do away with the analog style instrument clusters altogether. throw another 7" display in there.

What if there is no cell service?
By othercents on 7/18/2013 11:19:38 AM , Rating: 2
While having to update my GPS is an added distraction that I don't do with my smartphone, I do find that sometimes I just don't have cellular service everywhere I drive. Then you have data caps that come into play too.

I also notice that my Garmin works much better than my smartphone for directions and I don't have to pull my phone phone out when I get into the car and I can still use my phone without interrupting my GPS.


RE: What if there is no cell service?
By spamreader1 on 7/18/2013 11:30:49 AM , Rating: 3
I pre-load maps of areas before I travel. turn by turn get's a little screwy though when connectivity drops. IMO the GPS systems in cars really just to have the ability to update wirelessly and by the owner in some fassion, but it MUST have some serious security planned out to prevent GPS updates from somehow mucking up other computer managed auto components (injectors, abs, etc.)

RE: What if there is no cell service?
By othercents on 7/18/2013 11:38:54 AM , Rating: 2
GPS updates via bluetooth phone?? You already connect your phone to the car, so why not get the latest software updates through the phone, or an app in the phone?

RE: What if there is no cell service?
By Master Kenobi on 7/18/2013 2:38:04 PM , Rating: 2
My Acura has a standard 3.5" DVD drive mounted in the trunk that I just swap the DVD out to update the GPS/Software system in the car. No need to bother the dealer, just order the disk and away I go.

RE: What if there is no cell service?
By BRB29 on 7/18/2013 2:49:39 PM , Rating: 2
Lol I remember the trunk drives. I'm more than glad my dvd/cd 6 disc changer is in my dash. I remember stopping on the highway just to change the CDs...unless you got friends sitting in the back seat.

But seriously, having to update via trunk DVD drives are annoying. Even the simple usb memory stick or SD card is a much better option. Updates roll out every week these days, why would you want to burn a DVD every week.

I'm sure they can make an app so you can update your vehicle nav system via bluetooth or wifi from your phone.

By Griffinhart on 7/18/2013 4:51:52 PM , Rating: 2
MyFord Touch system updates the core system via USB stick, and Ford will ship me, free of charge, any updates to the GPS system on an SD card that is simply inserted and you are done.

DLNA in the car?
By theaerokid on 7/18/2013 11:31:06 AM , Rating: 2
My new Smart TV does DLNA and I'm liking the playing of my phone music through it. If the car infotainment can play that role reliably, instead of trying to use a whole new OS, apps, etc, then I would dig that. Also don't want to use 2 different navigation apps. Would prefer to access my Google Maps locations instead of punching in addresses in a non-connected GPS unit.

RE: DLNA in the car?
By lennylim on 7/18/2013 2:29:20 PM , Rating: 2
It's not the contents, it's the interface. My car can play music over a USB drive. But the user interface is designed by someone who obviously never intends to use it. What's wrong, you ask? Glad you did.

1) Select a folder, it plays the first song inside the folder.
2) I can't create a playlist within the songs.
3) No search. No ordering by artist, genre, anything. Except by folder.
4) When playing order is random, skip goes to the next sequentially ordered song.
5) Speaking of ordering, I'm still not sure how it is ordered - probably in the order it is listed in the directory table.
6) No support for Asian fonts.

What? You didn't ask? Oh, well, I needed to vent.

By Gunbuster on 7/18/2013 1:10:36 PM , Rating: 2
Make an app for iphone, android, and windows phone that redirects the screen from the phone to the head unit display and then call it a day.

Oh but how would the car company charge for a $2000 Nav and $200 map DVD updates...

RE: Durr
By Monkey's Uncle on 7/18/2013 5:45:30 PM , Rating: 2
My ford comes with the infamous Touch/MS Sync system and is based on an 8" touchscreen.

The option to adds Nav to the car cost me a whopping $500. Mostly because all it needed was the sat receiver and software - the display hardware is already there as a part of MFT. Map upgrades are free (they come on an SD card) but updating the firmware is a royal pain (you leave the car idling for 1/2 hour while the 2GB update downloads & installs from a usb key).

By NXTwoThou on 7/18/2013 4:31:07 PM , Rating: 2
Isn't this identical to the post recently about maps? Same answer as the maps topic.. Miracast enable your touchscreen monitor in your car. Wirelessly connect to the phone in your pocket. Done and done.

RE: Miracast
By Monkey's Uncle on 7/18/2013 5:47:24 PM , Rating: 2
What phone? What if I don't have a phone in my pocket or the phone is not mine?

Penny-wise, pound foolish
By Lord 666 on 7/18/2013 11:52:41 AM , Rating: 1
Call me old fashioned, but prefer the in-car system over anything phone based.

Actually broke down the reasons in the other near identical post this week, but I keep cars 4-6 and swap out my phones about every 6 months.

Plus, with Active Sync, lock policy is enforced, but it is not on a in-car unit.

That $1500 or so difference works out to be less two days of lunch in one week.

For all of those people saying they want the smartphone, don't you think it will drive up smartphone costs and delay release to customers due to testing?

RE: Penny-wise, pound foolish
By Piiman on 7/20/2013 10:09:58 AM , Rating: 2
No it would be up to the car manufacturer to make sure phones are compatible not the phone makers. Even if it was the phone manufacturers I and I'm sure many others don't live to get phone updates every 6 months and wouldn't even know a phone was "delayed" due to car testing.

Android head unit
By jthistle on 7/18/2013 12:55:28 PM , Rating: 3
I would like to see the major head unit manufacturers (Pioneer, Alpine, Kenwood, etc.) come out with an Android head unit. That way I get the improved sound of the aftermarket head unit with the more robust interface of an Android tablet. Then I can update the system through my home WiFi or through a mobile hotspot with my phone.

I realize there are Chinese Android head units but they suck and the tablet + Amp solution involves a lot of custom work.

What if...
By Monkey's Uncle on 7/18/2013 12:30:38 PM , Rating: 2
... you don't own a smartphone?

Not everyone wants or even likes a smartphone. My wife is one of those.

Does this mean she doesn't get her satellite radio, GPS or other things usually offered in an embedded infotainment system?

Likewise while I love my smartphone, I am not a fan of the obscene data charges my cell provider charges so I don't leave my mobile data activated all the time.

I hardly ever use my car's GPS anymore...
By CList on 7/18/13, Rating: 0
By Griffinhart on 7/18/2013 4:45:45 PM , Rating: 2
Well, in the defense of these built in systems, your experience is with a system built durring the age of the Razor. When your car was built, it's in dash GPS was better than any phone. Considering Androids and iphones were non-existant when your car was built.

Fast forward to 2013 and most of these systems integrate surprisingly well with smartphones.

My 2012 Ford allows me to control any audio from my phone, lets me read and send text via voice, has free map updates from Ford (Overnighted for free on a SD card), allows me to attach multiple USB devices (Thumbdrives, any smart phone), Blue tooth connections, and other audio sources. I get Traffic updates and rerouting (like I did on my old Garmin). It will even use my phone to look up businesses to navigate too or call. I can get current weather radar on it and even find out what's playing at the local movie theater. It will even let me turn the car into a mobile hotspot via phone or a USB Cell Modem.

All without having to mount anything on my windshield. I don't even have to take my phone out of my pocket.

They still have a lot of room for improvement, but they aren't bad at all.

easy fix
By tastyratz on 7/18/2013 1:37:27 PM , Rating: 2
A bluetooth standard which supports transmission of touchscreen signals and a partnership with intel for widi integration. If auto makers could sit down with some top hardware providers we could solve this once and for all.

I see a definite use for wireless display standards integral to smart phones anyways. It might not support a 4k superdisplay - but could make life easier for a multitude of things.

By CaedenV on 7/18/2013 2:41:11 PM , Rating: 2
Cars have several technology hurtles that they face:
1) Other than those who lease, most people have cars much longer than they own electronics. Electronics are typically replaced every 2-5 years, while cars are closer to 8-10 years. The tech in a car is so far left behind in that time frame that it is worse than useless. In cases of maps, traffic, and new capabilities offered by new tech, these systems can even be a liability.
2) The location of these systems is ridiculous. Even reading a short text while on the road can be dangerous, and that is when your phone is up and you can have the road in your field of vision! Infotainment systems are typically in the center console, and typically even lower than the instrument panel. Even for quick-look graphical ques of where/when to turn this can be quite terrible. The nice thing about a portable GPS, or a phone, is that you can dock it right on the windshield, having all of your tools in very easy glancing distance. Putting infotainment displays on the instrument panel would be a big step up, but the real solution is having some sort of HUD overlay on the windshield itself.
3) Limited or no upgradeability! Yes, you can update your maps by getting a new DVD... but what else can be updated in these systems? What happens when next gen systems use online maps via a 2g or 3g network? Or even LTE? Is the technology going to be around for the life of the car? What if the map service provider upgrades their map system which causes the CPU in a 2-3 year old car to not be able to keep up? What if 3g is shut down some 5-6 years in the future in favor of a different cellular tech?
What about simple things like connectivity with devices? Are we going to be using Bluetooth 5-10 years from now? Are we going to be using USB on our phones in that time frame? Will Apple change their dock again? Maybe things stay the same... but there is simply no guarantee of that. Look at the changes we have seen in the last 10 years and tell me that we will not see even faster changes over the next 10.
4) Limited, expensive, or no support. A firmware update for the infotainment system messes up your environmental controls? Well, you may have to wait weeks or months to get it fixed. Is your car from an older model design... well no updates for you. Buy a lower end car with infotainment rather than a luxury vehicle? Well if you had paid more for the 'better' vehicle then you would still be getting support. Lets face it, these are CAR companies, not technology companies. Let's not force them to support things that they know very little about.

The Solutions:
1) Have a duel computer setup. Separate the Infotainment from the core components of the car. Leave things like climate control and other car specific features on one system, and then have a separate easily upgrade-able system available for the infotainment portion of the car (GPS, phone pairing, Maps, WiFi hotsopt, Audio/Video package, etc).
2) Separate the computer from the peripherals. Make the screen, touch, voice, speakers, etc. true peripherals rather than being an all-in-one unit. This allows the car to keep it's aesthetic, but can allow the actual computer to be upgraded.
3) Go 3rd party on in-car computers. Sure, have the government make strict guidelines about what an Infotainment system can or cannot do while driving, but there are tons of device manufacturers who can make a decent in-car system. Slap Android, or iOS, or even some sort of Windows on there and call it a day. Contract out for the OEM system provider, and highly suggest that customers only use their systems in the future, but let's keep it an open standard (I know... something that will never happen in a car). At the end of the day I trust the likes of Samsung or Nokia to make a good infotainment system over the likes of car manufacturers.

Great Idea!
By Welcome to the Machine on 7/18/2013 7:49:33 PM , Rating: 2
Given that smart phone location data is already considered "metadata", this avoids the privacy debate about what "smart car data" can also be captured by the feds.

No need for the FBI to obtain a warrant to watch you everywhere you go, and no new constitutional debate about "how far is too far?"

By Claidheamhmor on 7/19/2013 5:45:50 AM , Rating: 2
Take a look at what BlackBerry is doing with their QNX division, which supplies infotainment systems to many manufacturers (Jaguar, Land Rover, BMW, GM, Cadiallac, Acura, et al.). Smartphone integration, able to run apps, OTA updates, etc, and all built on top of an ultra-reliable OS.

not entirely correct...
By alpha754293 on 7/19/2013 9:27:14 AM , Rating: 2
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed here are solely that of my own and are not representative of Ford Motor Company or its affiliates.

"In addition, a lot of these systems run on pre-made DVDs instead of the Internet. This means that they don't run real-time updates, and to have this software updated means a time-consuming trip to the dealership."

Mine comes on an SD card. If there's an update to the maps, they can just mail me the new SD card meaning I don't have to stop in at the dealership AT ALL or the next time I get my oil changed (for < $20 BTW) they can swap it out then as well.

It's NOT that bad. Or I just get a loaner for the day, drop it off in the morning, and then I head across the border to "HQ" (I don't actually WORK in the HQ building, or the main campus, but I do work for corporate), swap the cars back after work.

"Mobile apps found on smartphones, on the other hand, are cheap (and sometimes even free) and offer the same services as these infotainment systems. What's more is that they're constantly being updated so the driver has the most relevant information while on the road."

a) It's only true if you don't bother counting the cost of the phone (now matter HOW you pay for it) and the plan. Like I wrote on the other article, my nav system works out to be $5.83/month for 72-months. Even if I were to half the time, it'd still only $11.66/month (roughly). If you can get a smartphone, either on a 36-month contract (or without) for $11.66/month INCLUDING the voice/data plan - PLEASE lemme know.

And for like traffic updates and stuff, I get my updates through SiriusXM Travel Link.

b) That might also ONLY be true in the US. In Canada, it's different. The rules governing mobile telecommunications are different than that of the US. So unless people here have a "North Korean" attitude/mindset (i.e. "We are the best country in the world because we are the ONLY country in the world" (despite there being absolutely NO evidence to support that claim, but to the North Korean indoctrination, they don't care)); the lack of universality means that it is not necessarily a good solution that can be applied worldwide. And since ALL car companies are global nowadays, no matter which car you look at, what you develop for one region needs to be applicable, work, be functional, and meets the regulations of ANY OTHER region (that the vehicle may be sold in). Or else you end up with a medicine cabinet full of little localized bandaids.

By rburnham on 7/19/2013 10:16:50 AM , Rating: 2
All I want is a decent built-in adjustable phone mount and Bluetooth as a standard on factory stereos. No need for touch screens, or anything kooky.

I generally drive my car
By chris2618 on 7/19/2013 6:02:51 PM , Rating: 2
I really don't understand all of these infotainment systems. All i want in the centre of my car is climate control, a stereo with aux in and two 12V sockets. Let not forget physical controls which i can actually feel.

“And I don't know why [Apple is] acting like it’s superior. I don't even get it. What are they trying to say?” -- Bill Gates on the Mac ads

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