The smartphone as a model for telematics HMIs, part II

The smartphone as a model for telematics HMIs, part II

Satisfying drivers’ expectations in a smartphone-driven era is no small task for an industry that still counts its production cycles in years rather than months. The simplest solution would, of course, be to make the smartphone the sole engine of in-car telematics and use MirrorLink to project the smartphone’s screen on a larger in-vehicle infotainment display.

MirrorLink recently marked two important milestones in its quest to become an industry standard. Last fall, Toyota iQ became the first vehicle to feature a MirrorLink-enabled infotainment system. And in May, Samsung Galaxy S III became the first MirrorLink-enabled Android smartphone, thus broadening the technology’s reach past Symbian-based devices by Nokia.

But MirrorLink is unlikely to work for most safety and security systems, because they require the kind of reliability and crash-worthiness that only embedded systems can provide. Driver distraction remains an issue with loosely paired smartphone apps. (For more on distracted driving, What DOT’s new distraction guidelines mean for telematics, DOT’s distraction guidelines as challenge and opportunity, Distraction guidelines as a telematics business opportunity, and Driver distraction: The battle over in-car apps.)

What’s more, many carmakers, particularly those manufacturing higher-end cars, are unlikely to choose a generic smartphone-based interface when they could be using tailor-made HMIs to reinforce the unique value proposition of their brands.

“We know that the customer is going to want use elements of their smartphone, and we don’t want to duplicate necessarily all of the functionality their smartphone could bring to the vehicle,” says Kathy S. McMahon, program manager for connected infotainment at General Motors. “But it’s important for us to give our customers a branding experience or an HMI experience that is something that General Motors designs.” (For exclusive business analysis and insight on telematics and human-machine interfaces, or HMIs, download TU’s Human Machine Interface Report 2012 Edition.)

Hybrid solutions

And so GM is investing in various hybrid solutions that still let drivers use their smartphones for connectivity and richness of content but also feature a solid embedded component with well though-out HMI like CUE, the brand-new infotainment system from Cadillac.

One of the biggest challenges of the hybrid approach is coming up with hardware that will be usable for the duration of the car’s life cycle. Some of this can be accomplished through software upgrades. In an industry first earlier this year, more than 300,000 MyFord Touch owners were mailed a memory stick with a full system upgrade that ensured faster, more responsive performance, reduced clutter on the home screen and added iPad compatibility, among other new features. (For more on the hybrid approach, see Telematics and the hybrid approach to content delivery and Special report: Telematics and apps.)

“We can hardly buy a [connected] electronic device today and take it out of the box before it says that it’s connecting back to some server somewhere to get the latest software,” Ford’s Buczkowski says. “That’s … going to be an expectation that people have about their cars, that their cars will be continually improving and have the ability to upgrade and improve after the purchase.”

But carmakers must also make sure to build systems with enough capacity and performance overhead to handle the upgrades. For this reason, CUE comes equipped with one of the fastest processors in the automotive industry, a three-core ARM11 capable of executing 1.2 billion commands per second, and also features the latest in smartphone tethering technology that takes into account the projected growth in the size of data transfers, particularly as LTE/4G technology becomes commonplace.

“We don’t want to become the bottleneck, so we are looking into a lot of things with Bluetooth and other protocols … that will continuously take advantage [of the fact] that the phone has a 4G connection and can really get data fast,” McMahon says. (For TU’s comprehensive coverage of HMIs, see Special report: Telematics and the human-machine interface.)

Cloud-based solutions

Cloud-based solutions are expected to ease the burden on embedded hardware, but they are encumbered for the time being by connectivity issues and slow advances in HTML5 browser technology.

The suitability of social networking for the car is a hotly debated issue. And although the prevailing opinion is that social networking has little to add to the connected car experience, most OEMs do their best to integrate it in some shape or form.

“Our work in the user experience area indicates that in most instances it doesn’t really make much sense because social networking is a kind of lean forward and interactive experience and you have a very limited ability to interact in the car,” says Lanctot of Strategy Analytics. (For more on social networking, see Telematics and the socially networked car and Telematics and the socially networked car, Part II.)

Current Facebook integrations provide for reading of status updates or broadcasting one’s location, but limit interactivity while driving to preset status updates. As for Twitter, Lanctot sees little value in having one’s news feed read but can imagine the usefulness of Twitter feeds built around driver-relevant information, such as traffic or weather.

Integrating social media

Zypr, a new infotainment development platform from Pioneer Corporation, may be just the solution carmakers are looking for when it comes to integrating social media.

The goal of Zypr is not to make gossiping on Facebook easier, says David Frerichs, strategic consultant at Pioneer. Rather it is to aggregate social networking with other Internet services, such as local points of interest and media streaming, and present their combination in a way that is usable in the car.

“If you are in the car … you want to find out where your friends are located, you want to send them messages, receive messages, maybe you want to find out the latest thing your friend is doing, you want to meet your friend for lunch,” Frerichs says. These are “very task-driven kinds of things. I don’t want to use Facebook; I want to get access to my friend who happens to be connected to me through Facebook.”

Thanks to Zypr’s technology, which is freely available to software developers as a voice-powered, cloud-based API, drivers can, for example, request recommendations for a nearby restaurant and then tap social media connectivity to make plans with friends to meet there. Toyota’s Scion FR-S is the first vehicle to use Zypr technology to power a multimedia audio system.

Car companies need to be careful not to get carried away with all the new technology, though, and to continue building systems that appeal to both traditional customers content to make Bluetooth phone calls and tech savvy drivers who regard anything but the latest technology as a sign of the carmaker slipping on connected infotainment.

In other words, the systems need to be bright, colorful and simple so as not to spook the former and sophisticated enough to please the latter, McMahon says. “It’s tough to strike a balance, because you don’t want to put so much technology in the vehicle that the traditional buyers are scared away,” she says. But “if the system is simple to use, everyone loves it.” 

Jan Stojaspalis a regular contributor to TU.

Read The smartphone as a model for telematics HMIs, part I.

For TU’s comprehensive coverage of HMIs, see Special report: Telematics and the human-machine interface.

For all the latest telematics trends, join the industry’s other key players at Insurance Telematics USA 2012 in September in Chicago and Telematics Munich 2012 on October 29-30.

For exclusive telematics business analysis and insight, check out TU’s Human Machine Interface Report 2012 Edition.

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