2 juil 16

Appetite for in-car apps

Bluetooth technology has enabled our phones to evolve into multitasking communication devices. MirrorLink, Apple Car Play and Android Auto enable drivers to safely use smartphone apps while on the road. Many carmakers support all three protocols, which require the use of a USB cable (for now), and the installation of an additional app to make them controllable via rotary switches instead of the touchscreen. The main differences concern usability and safety.

The Open Automotive Alliance, which consists of automakers (FCA, Ford Group, GM, Hyundai Motor, PSA Group, Renault-Nissan, Volkswagen Group, Volvo and others) and technology developers (Continental, LG, Parrot, Panasonic, etc.) and is led by Google, has created Android Auto. This protocol can be used by owners of an Android 5.0 Lollipop or higher OS phone. Android Auto is restricted to apps that play audio media and encompass messaging services (sms, mail, WhatsApp...) and do not take control of the entire screen, but just provide the content.

Car Play is basically the Apple version of Android Auto – and is generally easier to use. It was introduced with the release of iOS 7.1 and requires an iPhone 5 or higher. Like its Google counterpart, Car Play only allows certain apps. Alternative navigation apps, for instance, are not supported, as Google and Apple obviously only allow their own navigation solutions (Google Maps and Apple Maps respectively). On the plus side, Android Auto and CarPlay offer integrated voice recognition, a major plus when it comes to driver safety. You can have messages read aloud (text-to-speech) and respond to them by dictating instead of typing (speech-to-text). 

Originally developed by Nokia back in 2011, MirrorLink is currently operated by the Car Connectivity Consortium (CCC). Uniting carmakers (GM, PSA Group, Toyota, Volkswagen Group, etc.) and phone manufacturers (HTC, Samsung, Sony), the organization is dedicated to cross-industry collaboration, making MirrorLink an open standard for car-smartphone connectivity. It allows app developers much more freedom. MirrorLink is designed for maximum interoperability between a wide range of smartphones and cars, regardless of operating system or hardware manufacturer.

Contrary to Apple’s and Google’s protocol, MirrorLink allows the app to take control of the entire head unit display. Theoretically, it can send any information to the screen. There are however rules to be obeyed to ensure all safety-related issues are covered. MirrorLink has a stringent certification / approval process in place. An app is either certified for use while stationary, or for use while stationary or driving.

One question remains: can developers continue supporting all three protocols? As for now, it is impossible to predict whether Android Auto, MirrorLink or CarPlay will win the battle to become the one and only standard.     

Authored by: Dieter Quartier