An auto show employee demonstrates Fords new
revolutionary MyFord Touch car infotainment
technology January 27, 2011 during a tour of the
floor at the 2011 Washington Auto Show at the
Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC.
The shows runs January 28 – February 6. (Image
credit: AFP/Getty Images via @daylife)
There’s not much in common between a car and a
smartphone at first glance. You sit in one, you put
the other in your pocket.
Yet more carmakers are starting to see important
similarities between the two, and they’re putting
more money into the wireless talents of these
machines that are essentially becoming “mobile
devices” that move at speed.
At CES 2013 next week, more than 100 technology
companies will present services related to “smart
cars.” And at least half a dozen carmakers like
Ford, General Motors and Hyundai, will exhibit at
the show, the world’s largest devoted to technology
and gadgetry that’s held every year in Las Vegas.
Among the trends they are embracing: self-driving
technology, parking guidance and better
entertainment and information (aka ‘infotainment’)
Apps like Waze might feature decent GPS
navigation services on your smartphone, but
carmakers want to integrate their own software
services to get an edge on competitors.
These services must typically run off an operating
system in order to connect to web protocols. But
which operating system? The answer is one that
some carmakers are keeping a secret, both in
terms of what they’re running on now, and what
they have in the works.
Most carmakers, like BMW and Audi, use their own
proprietary software platforms like Audi’s MMI,
which integrates Google Earth imagery
and Google Maps data for its A3 model. Others like
Ford use in-car systems that run off Microsoft‘s
“Windows Embedded Automotive” operating
But a few have also been tinkering with open-
source platforms like Tizen (a collaboration
between Samsung and Intel) Linux, GENIVI, and
“You would never recognize it, but… some of these
companies have been using the kernel of Android to
power their infotainment systems and in-vehicle
systems [navigation, video, audio, and controller
operating system],” said Thomas Stuermer of
Accenture’s electronics and high-tech group.
Stuermer didn’t want to name which carmakers
were doing so, and another source in automotive
software also shied away from naming names.
A few have been open about their use of Android,
though. The infotainment system for Renault’s new
Clio features the Android-based R-Link, while Saab
has also used Android for its infotainment
system. Intel subsidiary Wind River meanwhile
teamed up with stereo maker Clarion in 2011 to
develop Android-based car infotainment systems,
competing with Hong Kong-based Ca-Fi which does
the same. The Roewe 350 from China was billed as
the first car to run on Android (version 2.1) when it
was launched by China’s SAIC Motor in 2010 at the
Beijing Motor Show.
The choice of operating system for cars is
becoming more important to manufacturers as
consumers become more fickle and knowledgeable,
and the resulting products more competitive. “The
winning [infotainment] system will have a robust,
safe and flexible operating system,” said Mark
Fitzgerald in a report on the rise of automotive
software platforms for Strategy Analytics.
Of course, Android in a car won’t look so familiar to
those who use Android on a smartphone. Since the
platform is open source, carmakers will more-often-
than-not move to customize it in the same way
Amazon customized (or “forked,” in tech parlance)
Android for the Kindle’s operating system.
Carmakers are also, apparently, being cautious
about aligning themselves with mobile ecosystems
like Android, lest they put people off. They’d “start
to run the risk of becoming a disincentive to a
certain kind of customer to buy their product,” says
Stuermer. One reasons perhaps why some would
rather keep such details quiet.