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What Can Automotive Infotainment Take from the Apple iPhone OS 4?

03 May 2010

The automotive industry increasingly is scrutinizing smart phones as well as software-intensive electronics systems, which feature a tiered system and software architecture with standard interfaces between layers of hardware and software.

Meanwhile, the smart phone is becoming the strategic computing platform for the next decade and will rival the PC as a market for hardware, software, communication services, Location Based Services (LBS) and other services. Because the focus is on applications for product differentiation, the automotive industry should benchmark smart phone platforms, all of which are opening up software Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to the software developer community.

At Apple’s recent iPhone Operating System (OS) 4 press event, the company previewed its new OS version,

4.0. It also shared some impressive numbers: More than 4 billion iPhone apps had been downloaded to date, more than 50 million iPhones have been sold, 185,000 apps are available and the iPhone holds 64 percent of mobile browser use share.

More than 1,500 new APIs are in OS 4, with 100 new user features. Among them, Apple highlighted seven new features:

  • Multitasking for third-party apps.
  • Folders can now organize around categories of apps using a drag and drop User Interface (UI) with intelligent naming and store 2,160 apps, up from 180 apps.
  • Enhanced mail supports unified inbox, organizes by thread and opens attachments with third party apps.
  • iBooks is now available on the iPhone.
  • Enhanced enterprise features.
  • Game Center supports social gaming network and other features for more than 50,000 gaming apps.
  • iAd, a mobile advertising platform built into the iPhone OS.

Location-Based Multitasking
iSuppli believes automotive OEMs should pay attention to the way Apple handles security issues for applications. It will be easier for Apple to provide better security than other smart phones as it controls more of the application infrastructure, and Apple’s PC experience will help as well. This applies to Microsoft’s Windows 7, too. Apple and Microsoft are more sensitive to security issues than smart phone vendors since they possess experience from PC malware.

Enabling multitasking would benefit many third-party LBS application developers.

Loopt, a leading LBS social networking service provider, has been selling “serendipity experiences” of accidental discoveries of things around the user. However, the problem for such services was that their user bases have been growing slowly and the usage frequency was not high enough. Loopt has allowed its users a “hybrid” model of Check Ins and background updates on other smart phone platforms, which now will be available on iPhone, where it has the largest user base among others. iPhone Loopt users now can keep family and friends informed all the time about where they are without having to manually perform a check in or even launch the app.

Other multitasking services like background audio would apply to streaming audio services like Pandora, background VoIP for Skype, push notifications for email, calendar and even LBS content service messages, task completion for picture uploading, music metadata downloads, etc.

Putting Apps into Folders
Initially sorting apps on a vehicle headunit would not be a big issue, but any automation of organizing downloaded third-party apps and integration with the system’s native apps would be useful. For example, AutoLinQ’s Android-based system has a UI concept of four pillars of connected services and applications: Car View, Mobile View, Home View and Partner View. This automotive infotainment UI concept is broader than the WP7 or iPhone OS 4, as the vehicle environment has more complicated use cases. For infotainment OS developers, the key would be to organize apps in a nondistracting manner for drivers.

New Age Advertising
iSuppli believes that the mobile advertising platform iAd was the most noticeable new addition to the iPhone system. The addition was predictable from Apple’s acquisition of Quattro Wireless last year.

According to Apple, the best way to monetize free content is with iAd, and it is also better for users to consume advertising within the applications. Apple believes that this approach also gives it greater control of its overall environment and provides a better quality of experience on the iPhone and iPad.

There will be lots of free content to be delivered via the vehicle infotainment system, and the advertising platform will be critical to invite such content.

Meanwhile, in vehicle-specific conditions, ad delivery via browsers would be more adequate for passengers rather than for drivers, as full-browsing Web pages are information-heavy interfaces. Ad delivery via apps would be more suitable to drivers, as such apps will be better for driver-distraction issues.

On the other hand, interactive ads that are too visual would not fit the driving environment, even though ads powered by HTML5 have much better compression technology than Adobe Flash or others.

A Significant Upgrade
The iPhone OS 4 is a significant upgrade for Apple and for automotive apps. Multitasking allows many LBS apps to be used with the iPhone with less driver interaction. However, other features such as the iAd functions provide more distraction potential for iPhone auto usage. iBooks, enhanced mail functions, enterprise features and Game center would take additional steps and consideration for vehicle adoption. On the whole, such features are not for drivers but could be suitable for potential rear-seat entertainment.

Until any smart phone-vehicle headunit interfacing standards (wired or Bluetooth connectivity) are ready or until Apple adds any automotive interface APIs, the biggest takeaway from the iPhone now for automotive OEMs would be carefully thought-out multitasking features.

Learn More with iSuppli's Automotive Research Portal - Portable & LBS >

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