Word came down from on high that a handful of automakers, a few consumer electronics manufacturers and two suppliers had joined forces to create the Car Connectivity Consortium. The underlying purpose: to begin standardizing in-vehicle connectivity solutions ranging from Nokia's awkwardly-named "Terminal Mode" to Near Field Communications (NFC) and wireless charging capabilities.
In a world where platforms, devices and vehicle software runs the gamut from bleeding-edge (your smartphone) to bled-out (your two-year old, OEM-supplied navigation system), The Consortium has the potential to meld ease-of-use with constant connectivity. But there's a problem: two of the biggest names in mobile technology – Apple and Google – aren't in on the party. So is The Consortium dead before even it issues its next press release?
Continue reading Nokia's Plan To Control Your Car...
First, the players. The group grew out of the Consumer Electronics for Automotive association (CE4A), and on the automaker side, we've got General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Toyota, Volkswagen and Daimler, the latter of which has already announced Terminal Mode integration (more on that in a moment) in its recently refreshed Mercedes-Benz C-Class and SLK.
On the consumer electronics side, LG, Samsung and, naturally, Nokia are in on the game, along with aftermarket/OEM suppliers Alpine and Panasonic.
The reason these barons of industry decided it was time to collaborate is simple. There are too many platforms and ecosystems, and consumers are beginning to ask one simple question: "Will my new phone work with my new car?"
The short answer: Probably not.
Unless you're packing an iPhone or iPod (and specifically something from BMW or Mini that supports iPod Out functionality), you're largely left in the cold. Most vehicles are available with an optional USB input that can connect to Apple's proprietary 30-pin connector and integrates with the in-dash stereo, but what if you're not tethered to the Apple ecosystem? More importantly, what if you're one of the millions of Android users with your collection of songs and podcasts stored on your phone? At this point, your only option is Bluetooth streaming, and that's not only a stop-gap, it means you've got to fiddle with your phone while on the go. U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood would not approve...
Enter Terminal Mode.
The idea behind Nokia's Terminal Mode is simple: You plug in your phone and all the apps and multimedia functionality can be accessed through your car's touchscreen. Not only that, but the user interface looks almost identical to the one on your phone, so there's no learning curve.
You're probably already familiar with most of the technologies Nokia and The Consortium plan to use, namely Bluetooth (the wireless connection between your phone and your head unit) and WLAN (Wireless Local Area Network, essentially beefed up WiFi). While others, like Virtual Networking Computing (VNC), you might've used if you access your home computer while on the road.
By combining these technologies with USB connectivity and an integrated software solution on your smartphone, you'll be able to access everything from your favorite music service to navigation and POI searches, your contacts, text messages and apps, all without touching your phone. Throw in voice-control and you've got the on-the-go automotive computing setup of the future. However, that's assuming the standard is adopted by not just every automaker, but every device and mobile operating system manufacturer. And that's a tall bill of sale.
As of now, there are four major smartphone operating systems: Apple's iOS, Google's Android, Microsoft's Windows Mobile 7 (just adopted by Nokia for future devices while the headset maker figures its own OS out) and – the perennial long-shot of the bunch – PalmOS, which was recently acquired by HP. Not a single one of these mobile OS creators have signed on with The Consortium (Nokia just ironed out its WP7 plans last month and the group has been working on this for at least the last year) and until at least two of the big boys (we're looking at you Apple and Google) get in on the action, there's little hope of Terminal Mode going mainstream.
While that's the biggest hurdle, coming in close behind is the issue of driver safety and the rampant rate at which consumer electronics evolve.
To the first point, how society views distracted driving is evolving. There was massive hue-and-cry when the first radios came to cars. Public safety advocates in the 30s and 40s were convinced it would lead to more crashes and an increase in fatalities. Today, you'd be hard-pressed to find someone making the same case, let alone a vehicle without a basic AM/FM stereo.
On the second point, the widespread adoption of a standard – be it Terminal Mode or something similar – will allow automakers to include the system in all new vehicles (and aftermarket manufacturers to bake it in to future products), but that doesn't solve the issue of obsolescence. Today's global standard could be tomorrow's played-out technology in as little as two year's time. And if that's the case, The Consortium is DOA.
While both GM and Toyota have already announced plans to utilize QNX's new automotive infotainment software with Terminal Mode integration (MyLink for GM and Entune for Toyota), that's still a fraction of the global market.
Without backing from every major player – from automakers to device manufacturers and software providers – a global connectivity standard simply won't gain the necessary market traction, leaving you out in the cold when the time comes to either purchase your next smartphone or a new car. The utopian future of sitting in the driver's seat, dropping your phone into a dock and continuing your connected life on the go is still hazy at best, and if The Consortium can't get everyone on board, we'll continue to be forced to rely on unstable connections, outdated software and a more distracted in-car environment for years to come.