Car Dashboard and Infotainment

The car dashboard is perhaps the most visible element of the emerging race to develop the ultimate connected vehicle – from a consumer perspective at least. Already accustomed to the ease of use and rich functionality of their smartphones, many consumers are now demanding the same from their car user interface. While Apple and Samsung deliver a new generation of smartphone almost every year, the automotive industry’s release cycles for their infotainment solutions are typically much longer. Price is also an important factor.

Cockpit of a Tesla Model S_small

TBD: Tesla Model S with 17-inch touchscreen

Naturally, it is not in the interest of the automotive vendor to hand over this critical piece of the car’s user interface to the smartphone vendors. Ultimately however, this is not just about direct revenue from the sale of infotainment systems – it is a much wider battle field. After all, the dashboard offers a direct interface to the customer. It is not unlike the battle over which browser or search engine gets pre-installed on an operating system or smartphone. Establishing control over the applications and information that will be made available to the consumer via their car dashboard could be decisive in the achievement of billions in revenue in future years. For decades, the car industry has been struggling to build closer relationships with their customers, and the connected car represents a huge opportunity to close this gap. But equally, co-opetition with smartphone giants could pose a sizeable threat in this high-stakes space.

On the smartphone side, key initiatives include CarPlay by Apple and Android Auto by Google. The idea behind CarPlay is to connect your iPhone to a compatible touchscreen-enabled head unit. The iPhone then takes control and displays a set of approved apps on the car’s touchscreen interface. This approach is sometimes referred to as “mirroring,” because it converts the car’s head unit into a display and charging service. Based on the Android ecosystem, Android Auto takes a similar approach, and has planned for functions such as GPS mapping/navigation, music playback, SMS, telephony, and web search.

For automotive OEMs, this is clearly a difficult proposition. “In terms of dashboard supremacy, OEMs face having to choose between lower costs and greater control. They can‘t have both,” explains Volker Scholz, responsible for automotive strategy at mm1 Consulting.

So it would seem that OEMs have just two options: Either continue the costly development of their proprietary solutions – which are very unlikely to ever compete with the functional richness of the smartphone – or hand over control to the smartphone vendors. An interesting compromise between these two extremes could be what mm1 term an “app link”– a piece of middleware like the Bosch mySPIN app launcher that creates an improved link between the OEM’s dashboard system and a smartphone via an OEM-defined API. Users can run selected apps on the smartphone and display an automotive-grade UI on the dashboard. They can then control the app using in-car controls. For example, Land Rover has taken this approach with its InControl™ solution, which is based on mySPIN.

The OEM dilemma of dashboard supremacy (Source: mm1 Consulting)

The OEM dilemma of dashboard supremacy (Source: mm1 Consulting)

A key advantage of the app link approach is that it enables new applications and can also leverage a number of the native car functions that are required for car-specific applications. To return to our usage-based insurance example, the UBI app needs to be able to access the driving profile so it can obtain data about mileage, average speed, abrupt braking, etc. The only way this information can be accessed is through the car’s internal interfaces, via the CAN bus, for example [CAN1]. It seems highly unlikely that OEMs will open up these highly critical, native car interfaces to apps that can be downloaded from an app store outside the direct control of the OEM. Handing over this kind of control to Apple or Google would not only mean less business control for the OEMs, there is also a question of functional safety. Reading this type of data is one thing, but allowing active control over the vehicle (acceleration, steering, braking) is quite another. However, as we will see in the Digital Horizon section below, the ability to converge car dashboard information such as map and route data with automated driving functions is perhaps one of the greatest opportunities presented by the IoT. This is where approaches like the app link could have a valuable role to play in building bridges between these different worlds, while also limiting the associated risk.

It is clear that this race for dashboard supremacy will remain an interesting space for the foreseeable future. According to Stella Löffler from mm1 Consulting, “There is no dominant solution yet. In the medium term, the right answer will vary from OEM to OEM. Probably from car segment to car segment.”