The Swedish automaker will equip the 2012 9-3 sedan with its new IQon infotainment system, combining navigation, apps and vehicle diagnostics, all powered by Google's open-source mobile operating system.
"Android is perfect from an engineering point of view," says Christopher Mckinnon, Saab's global product manager. "We have a solid foundation to build off and there is a massive developer community."
Mckinnon emphasizes that getting developers involved is key to IQon's success, and Saab plans to release an API to third-party devs next year. App creators will have access to over 500 vehicle sensors, allowing them to tap into everything from location information to dynamic telematics (speed, yaw rate, steering angle, etc.). Beyond that, expect a range of social connectivity, video and streaming audio apps, with Mckinnon specifically citing Spotify as one service Saab would love to see available through the IQon App Store.
When Translogic asked Mckinnon about security concerns over both developer access to vehicle systems and Android as a whole, he was adamant that firewalls would be implemented and developers won't have access to critical safety systems.
As for hardware, the IQon system made its debut on the Saab Phoenix concept in Geneva, but it wasn't functional, only displaying a few animations and rough UI elements. You can get an idea of the system in the animation below, and anyone familiar with an iOS or Android device will feel right at home. Users can swipe between screens to access local weather, navigation, music, internet browsing, vehicle diagnostics, performance information, climate control settings and social networking apps, along with scheduling service appointments through Saab's relatively sparse dealer network.
When the production version of IQon arrives in 2012, an eight-inch capacitive touchscreen will be partnered with a yet-to-be-determined processor (we'd put our money on NVIDIA), along with a modular modem for data that can be upgraded from 3G to 4G wireless broadband. Saab also plans to include haptic feedback on future IQon systems as early as 2013, and naturally, voice control will be baked into the system at launch.
Johan Formagren is heading up the IQon initiative at Saab and, like Audi, BMW and Ford, recognizes that the traditional vehicle development product cycle is out of alignment with the world of consumer electronics.
"Our open innovation strategy, using the Android operating system, will keep the provision of in-car infotainment up to date," says Formgren. "IQon will allow infotainment services to constantly evolve during the lifetime of a car's product cycle," rather than relying on infrequent and often unreliable dealer upgrades.
Although there's still talk of Android coming to another automaker sometime this year, Saab could beat them to the punch, and judging by what we've seen, the Swedish automaker has the potential to do Android proper right out of the gate.
Ground-breaking car communications platform using Android operating system
Enables flexible upgrading and personalization during the car's lifecycle through downloading applications like a smartphone
Based on pioneering 'open innovation' with third-party service providers and applications developers
Test fleet on the road with beta version of IQon system
Trollhättan, Sweden: Saab Automobile is changing the auto industry infotainment landscape by engaging external partners in 'open innovation' for the development of its new IQon infotainment concept, using Google's Android operating system.
Saab IQon delivers a completely new car infotainment user experience, combining all that's best from the mobile industry with Saab's automotive knowledge and innovative spirit to create an infotainment system for the next generation of Saab cars.
Users will be able to download a wide range of applications, online services and multi-media functions provided through a Saab IQon store. Saab will issue third-party developers with a vehicle application programming interface (API) providing access to more than 500 signals from different sensors in the vehicle. These measure, for example, vehicle speed, location and direction of travel, driver workload, yaw rate, steering wheel angle, engine speed and torque, inside and outside temperature, barometric pressure and the sun's position.
"With Saab IQon, there are no limits to the potential for innovation," says Johan Formgren, Head of Saab Aftersales and commercial project leader for IQon. "We will be inviting the global Android developer community to use their imagination and ingenuity."
Saab's collegiate development strategy - open innovation - is a 'first' in the automotive industry and provides a faster, more efficient and more flexible alternative to the conventional, in-house development of vehicle infotainment services.
"Today's customers want to be as well connected inside the car as they are at all other times," adds Formgren. "IQon will give them the convenient, seamless connectivity they enjoy with smartphones, while adding new car-specific programs and services.
IQon provides an embedded computer platform in the car with a modem which automatically connects to the internet when the car's ignition is switched on. An 8-inch touchscreen provides access to services, including audio and entertainment streaming, online navigation and on-board music storage.
Saab's 'open innovation' strategy offers the global developer community access to the full bandwidth of car communications – infotainment, telematics, systems monitoring and diagnostics. In this way, it opens up new dimensions in customer choice for the personalization of in-car services. Even applications specific to particular countries can be included.
"Our open innovation strategy, using the Android operating system, will keep the provision of in-car infotainment up to date," adds Formgren. "IQon will allow infotainment services to constantly evolve during the lifetime of a car's product cycle, unlike current in-car systems which are fixed some years before a car goes on sale and then remain static,."
To ensure high driving safety and quality standards are maintained, programs from software developers and application providers will be evaluated and approved by Saab before they are made available to customers through the online Saab IQon store.
IQon also provides a platform for remote communication to and from the car with Saab dealerships, for example, using telemetry to upload vehicle data, carry out diagnostics, provide service appointments or even install some in-car options.
The IQon system is shown for the first time in the Saab PhoeniX concept car at the 2011 Geneva Motor Show. A beta version of the IQon system is already being trialed with company users in a fleet of test cars.