New group pushes car integration of phone apps

Auto manufacturers, systems suppliers, and consumer electronics makers have formed a consortium to maintain and develop a standard that turns mobile devices into automotive infotainment portals.

Liane Yvkoff
Liane Yvkoff is a freelance writer who blogs about cars for CNET Car Tech. E-mail Liane.
Liane Yvkoff
3 min read

Auto manufacturers, systems suppliers, and consumer electronics makers have formed a consortium to maintain and develop a standard that helps turn mobile devices into automotive infotainment portals. Formerly overseen by Nokia, the newly formed Car Connectivity Consortium counts Daimler, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai Motor Company, Toyota, and Volkswagen among its founding members. In addition to car companies, systems suppliers Alpine and Panasonic and consumer electronics makers LG Electronics, Samsung, and, of course, Nokia are founding members of the new group responsible for maintaining the Terminal Mode standard.

"The Car Connectivity Consortium now has the power to turn Terminal Mode into the global standard for the integration of smartphones into vehicles, bringing together the exciting and [innovative] worlds of mobile ecosystems and applications ... with the automotive industry," Floris van de Klashorst, director and head of Nokia Automotive at Nokia, said in a news statement.

The Terminal Mode standard, released earlier this year, enables automotive electronic platforms to replicate a mobile device's user interface on a vehicle's in-dash navigation screen. Some upcoming models featuring BMW's ConnectedDrive, Toyota's Entune, and GM's MyLink use a QNX-based platform that supports Terminal Mode. The advantage of this platform strategy is that it gives carmakers a way to bring the latest mobile applications, such as Internet music and navigation, into cars without significant additional development. Common arguments for this platform are that it reduces the electronics system development life cycle and lets consumers use their favorite applications in the car without needing to upgrade the head unit or, in extreme cases, the vehicle.

"Vehicles are evolving to be a 'living space,' with cutting-edge technology applied," SeungHoon Lee, vice president of the Convergence Lab at LG Electronics CTO Division, said in a news release. "But the life cycle of a built-in car AV system is difficult to match with such fast-moving trends and developments in CE/IT products."

Development of consumer technology outpaces and is out of sync with timelines used by automotive engineers, which typically follow a five-year development cycle, and three for the electronics systems. Long lead times are why it's not easy for automotive manufacturers to turn on a dime and incorporate something like digital music service Spotify, should it ever be legal in the U.S.

BMW is expected to be the first carmaker to take advantage of this technology strategy. Although not a member of the Car Connectivity Consortium, the carmaker is a member of Consumer Electronics for Automotive (CE4A), which originally spearheaded the Terminal Mode standard initiative. BMW's QNX-based entertainment platform lets drivers connect their phones to a car and use mobile applications in the vehicle, including reading e-mail and listening to Internet apps. So far, BMW has announced support only for BlackBerry handsets and iPhones (which use iPod Out and the BMW and MINI Apps to bring in mobile applications). The QNX platform they use technically supports Android phones, but it's up to the manufacturer to make its system work with those devices. Asked if BMW will support Android devices, a BMW spokesperson replied in an e-mail that the manufacturer is "definitely working on other platforms." Several other group members are expected to introduce their first Terminal Mode products this year.

In an interview with Jorg Brakensiek, chief architect for Terminal Mode at Nokia, the researcher stated that all of Nokia's handsets will support Terminal Mode by the end of the year. And although Microsoft hasn't joined the Car Connectivity Consortium, Terminal Mode's open architecture means there's no reason that the software giant couldn't support the standard.

The number of companies interested in supporting Terminal Mode could indicate a trend toward using phones to supplement in-dash navigation systems, as more consumers come to expect infotainment and connectivity in the car. Saab at the 2011 Geneva Motor Show debuted the Phoenix concept sedan, which featured its Android-based Iqon infotainment system. Rather than bringing in apps from phones, the Iqon infotainment system operates a lot like a phone itself.

Asian and domestic car manufacturers joining the Consortium could mean that more new vehicles coming to market may take the phone-as-infotainment route. The consortium was to meet at the upcoming Terminal Mode Summit in Tokyo, but the meeting was canceled due to the recent earthquake and nuclear crisis. In the future, the organization's main focus will be to maintain and develop the standard, and to look at new technologies to incorporate, such as Near Frequency Communication and wireless charging.