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The iPod Effect in Automotive Infotainment

04 April 2011

Little did anyone know what sort of change the Apple Inc. iPod would bring about in society, media technology or even the automotive industry upon the media player’s release in 2001. Back then, automotive infotainment systems consisted mainly of CD players, radios and navigation systems. But with the evolution of technology and the clamor for new diversions in cars, additions like DVD players and hard disk drives (HDD) made their way as well into automobiles.

The iPod itself did not really take off until 2005, when sales jumped from a few million units to more than 20 million, according to Apple’s quarterly results. And then from 2005 to 2007, sales soared from 20 million to more than 50 million. To date Apple has sold nearly 300 million iPod units.

Features and Ssoftware Related
The influence of the iPod in the automotive industry today is more related to features and software than to hardware. The most obvious influence is the addition of Apple’s iPod Out to infotainment systems.

Announced as an application programming interface (API) when Apple launched iOS 4 in 2010, the iPod Out API allows original equipment manufacturers (OEM) to integrate Apple’s familiar operating system into a vehicle’s infotainment system. This includes both controls and design.

The BMW group, which includes Mini, was the first OEM to announce inclusion of the iPod Out into its vehicles, with the iPod Out available on 2011 BMW and Mini model lines. And with the iDrive in BMW, users can use the disassociated haptic in the same fashion as they use the click wheel on an iPod.

Another feature starting to appear on vehicles today similar to the iPod display is cover album art. A fairly recent trend for OEMs, more and more models appear to be offering the graphic for displays, similar to what iPod users have been used to for years.

Beyond 2012
Apple’s influence on the automotive infotainment sector is not done. There are other sectors that it is reaching but that are slower to adapt or evolve.

An example that is beginning to show is the disappearance of HDDs in vehicles. When Ford made the decision to launch Sync or when Fiat launched Blue&Me, neither included HDDs with their systems because they were based on digital media. Both Ford and Fiat realized people were trending away from CDs for their music and heading toward digital media storage, usually through their iPods or iPhones.

Another possible hardware fatality due to the popularity of the iPod and smart phones are the CD and DVD drives. Although DVDs are more than likely going to stay around for awhile, perhaps useful for nothing else other than to update the navigation system, it is entirely possible that digital media will render them practically useless. In fact, Fiat with Blue&Me offered—and continues to offer—cars that do not have optical drives, instead relying on digital media.

Optical drives will continue to be present in cars for some time, but with SD navigation available and digital media’s popularity, it is possible to see OEMs start to offer them less and less in the coming years.

And last but not least is Apple’s latest offering of the iPad. The iPad has yet to make its full presence known throughout the automotive world, but several concepts and designs have included them. The most likely place to see them in vehicles would be as rear-seat entertainment replacements. It is not out of the question, though, to see them in the front of the car as well—at least for the passenger.

A Major Influence
Who would have thought that a small, square handheld device launched in 2001 would have such a big influence on the automotive industry? Almost 10 years after launch, the iPod is still influencing how infotainment systems are designed and the features that they include.

As Apple continues to develop new and innovative products in the consumer electronics sector, automotive OEMs will have to be prepared, too. Apple seems to have a major influence on the automotive infotainment industry, and it looks like it will continue to do so.

Learn More > IHS iSuppli’s Automotive Research Portal - Components & Devices

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