Half of all vehicle infotainment systems capable of smartphone-integration will use Apple's upcoming "iOS in the Car" by 2018, according to a report by ABI Research.
The iOS in the Car user interface, expected out next year, links Apple's iOS 7 mobile operating system with vehicle infotainment systems to provide an optimized interface for messaging, navigation and music via a smartphone.
When iOS in the Car was unveiled earlier this year at the Worldwide Developer Conference, Apple CEO Tim Cook said the 2014 launch will be "very, very important" and a "key focus" for the company going forward.
During the unveiling, Eddy Cue, senior vice president of Internet Software and Services, displayed a slide with a dozen automaker monikers, including Honda/Acura, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan/Infiniti, Ferrari, Chevrolet/Opel, Kia, Hyundai, Volvo and Jaguar. Cue, whose Apple business unit oversees iTunes, iCloud, the App Store, iMessages, Siri and Maps, said each of those automakers plan to add iOS integration next year.
An ABI Research report released yesterday forecasts that shipments of connected in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) systems equipped with one or more smartphone integration technologies will grow substantially worldwide during the next five years, reaching 35.1 million units by 2018.
Of those, 43.6% will be equipped with MirrorLink, 49.8% with "iOS in the Car," and 28.2% with other technologies, ABI said.
"Apple seems to have a plan to roll out this pretty aggressively in 2014. So that's one of the main assumptions behind this," said Gareth Owen, principal analyst at ABI Research.
MirrorLink is a mobile device to IVI interoperability standard being pushed by the Car Connectivity Consortium, a group whose members represent more than 80% of the world's auto market, and more than 70% of the global smartphone market.
Smartphone capability advances have dramatically changed consumers' in-car expectations.
Along with Internet connectivity, consumers have come to expect they'll be able use whatever mobile application they choose, the IVI feature many consumers value the most, Owen said.
"Car OEMs face the difficult challenges of not only how best to integrate smartphones into their vehicles, but also how to ensure that the integration strategy remains viable throughout the life of the vehicle and multiple generations of smartphones," Owen said in a statement.
Automakers hand the IVI business over to Apple or Google, so choosing MirrorLink allows them to control that end of the business, Owen said.
At the same time, iOS and Android already has a mature apps market, where MirrorLink would be starting from ground zero.
"They're still working on version 1.1 of MirrorLink. So the issue now is when it's going to come out and how many phone manufacturers will include MirrorLink in their phones," Owen said. "Another issue is whether app developers will produce apps that are designed for MirrorLink."
While many available technologies can be used to integrate a smartphone with a car's head unit (the computer brains of the IVI), they have been added to few vehicles to date.
Along with MirrorLink, mobile linking technologies include proprietary software such as RealVNC, Abalto Technologies' WebLink, and iOS in the Car.
There are also UI screen replication technologies such as Miracast and MHL which are ideally suited for high bandwidth applications such as video streaming to rear-seat entertainment displays. Such technologies could in the future be used by MirrorLink, RealVNC and the like.
Failure to launch
Automakers to date, though, are well behind the mobile device market in IVI capabilities.
This week, Consumer Reports released its annual Auto Reliability Rankings, and and in-car electronics including navigation, audio and communication systems topped the list of complaints for 2013 model vehicles.
In many cases, the report revealed touch-screen infotainment systems have been buggy, had frustrating screen freezes, a touch-control lag, and in some cases a reluctance to recognize a cell-phone, an MP3 device, or a voice command.
"The category that includes in-car electronics generated significantly more complaints than any of the 17 categories of problem areas in the survey. Complaints include issues with screen freezes, touch-control lag, voice recognition malfunctions and compatibility problems with cellphones and MP3 devices," Consumer Reports said in a statement.
American vehicles lead the pack in low infotainment system rankings. Of 34 Ford and Lincoln models in the survey, two-thirds were ranked "much worse than average," the lowest rating available.
Ford automobiles use the MyFord IVI and Lincoln uses the MyLincoln Touch infotainment system.
Meanwhile, Mark Boyadjis, a senior analyst for infotainment systems at IHS Automotive, describes Toyota's EnTunes IVI as "inconsistent" at best.
Part of the problem is that automakers such as Ford and Toyota, the first and second automakers to use IVIs, also offered few amenities because the early immaturity of the technology, Boyadjis said. Also, he noted, the vehicle development lifecycle is typically four years long, so when a 2013 car rolls off the assembly line, it generally sports 2009 technology.
"The biggest problem is when [IVIs] hit the market on a major level, it was around the same time consumers started having smartphones and tablets in their pockets as well. Inherently, the operation and speed of those mobile devices is going to be better," Boyuadjis said.
"[Automakers] found themselves having to offer [IVI] for competitive reasons to seem technologically advanced, but any of these automakers would find themselves hard pressed to keep up with consumer electronic trends," he said.
A successful industry effort to standardize IVI systems on open source software could push the IVI market forward by leaps and bounds, some experts say.
Automakers are now working to standardize on a Linux-based mobile operating system.
Rudi Streif, who leads the Automotive Grade Linux workgroup for the Linux Foundation, says the use of proprietary software developed by third-party suppliers to power their infotainment systems is the main reason most of today's IVI's have limited functionality. He noted that such systems can only use proprietary car-based apps.
An open-source IVI operating system will provide a reusable platform consisting of core services, middleware and open application layer interfaces that eliminate the redundant efforts to create separate proprietary systems. And an open-source platform will let carmakers can share upgrades as they arrive.
Automakers could then focus on differentiating infotainment systems through user interfaces, which only consist of about 5% to 10% of a vehicle's IVI software.