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The Connected Car Platform Conundrum

I recently completed some proof-of-concept work for a major automotive manufacturer and I have come to the realization that the automotive manufacturer’s approach to the concept of the “Connected Car Platform” is going to run into growing pains as the pace of mobile innovation continues unabated.
One of first issues I ran into was that I did not own any of the client’s vehicles so I could not develop against an actual head unit but instead, had to use a head unit emulator.  Each manufacturer has their own head unit (that is the screen in the dash and all the associated systems that controls the music and any information displayed on the screen) with their own custom software and approach to connectivity.  This requires a mobile developer to work with aconnected_car multitude of manufacturer’s SDKs in order to have their mobile app work with any number of vehicle platforms.  The current state of the world in terms of mobile development for car platforms is very similar to what we found ourselves at a number of years ago when you were trying to decide how to support four or five different mobile platforms (iOS, Android, Microsoft, Blackberry and maybe Symbian).
Either you choose the top two or three, depending on the size of your development staff or looked at an expensive alternative such as Verivo. For the small mobile developer or development team, are you only going to support Ford and GM, leaving out all the other vehicle platforms? That might have worked in the 50s when GM and Ford dominated the automotive landscape, similar to what iOS and Android do in mobile today but not now.  There are initiatives such as the Open Automotive Alliance, however, their goal is to bring Android Auto to vehicles.  That cuts out the iOS platform and for families like mine who are blended (I have an Android phone but the rest of my family has iPhones), that won’t work.  Apple has come out with CarPlay but again, supporting that platform in a vehicle cuts out the Android consumer.
Is the answer an automotive mobile platform agreed to by all major automotive manufacturers, an open-source mobile Linux platform?  That would be nice and there is such a platform, called Ubuntu Touch but having the automotive manufacturers agree on something they believe they own and gives them a competitive advantage would be as likely as Congress playing well together. Even though each manufacturer considers it a competitive advantage, even the largest automotive manufactures do not have the resources and expertise that Apple and Google have in the mobile space and can devout to their respective automotive platforms once they become widely deployed in vehicles. For the automotive manufacturers, it is not a core competency, it is building cars.
The ideal platform would be one where it supports both CarPlay and Android Auto so neither platform is shut out.  If you think about the pace of innovation that the iOS and Android operating systems undergo in a single year, think about what sort of innovations that Apple and Google could bring to bear using CarPlay and Android Auto respectively when these firms have access to tens of millions of cars.  What that would look like is unknown but we have been able to dual-boot PCs and laptops for years, maybe a dual-boot head unit that can change operating systems based on the cell phone that is connecting to it is the answer until such time as iOS and Android go the way of AOL and a new mobile platform arises.  Once the barrier of mobile Connected Car development is overcome and development costs that reach a multitude of vehicle platforms is low, developers will find exciting and clever applications that are useful in an automotive setting.

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Perry Hoekstra

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