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Smartphone users struggle connecting to in-car infotainment systems

Lucas Mearian | Oct. 23, 2013
Automakers are scrambling to create cars with modular systems to allow easy upgrades

Competitive systems, such as Ford's AppLink and Chevy's MyLink, allow users to connect each application on an iPhone directly to the car's infotainment system head unit, or its brains. "That results in a more consistent user experience, but you give up things," Boyadjis said.

Toyota requires users to download the Entune app, which bundles specific application user interfaces that drivers can then connect to via Internet-enabled phones.

Toyota has struggled to educate owners that early versions of Entune wasn't supposed to be paired with mobile devices using Bluetooth wireless connectivity, according to Parkman.

"We recognized it was certainly an issue. I think the hard part is to be able to change. You can't change the hardware quickly, which is why it took a couple of years to generate our next generation of [Entune] systems. We would have loved to have adopted that function from first time it was launched," he said.

Because Toyota bundles access to specific Internet apps under one interface, the company can track app usage.

"They're able understand which apps are being used when and where and by which owners. You cannot do that by just synching to an app on your smartphone," Royadjis said.

If a driver connects to Pandora through a smartphone, there's no way for Toyota to distinguish whether a driver is using Pandora on his phone or on the car's infotainment system.

Mobile device integration a daunting task
As Royadjis points out, mobile device integration is among the most difficult issues facing the auto industry today.

"Take Chevy MyLink. There's a good chance your [mobile] device will work in the car, but it's just not 100%. Anyone who claims it's 100% is smoking something," he said.

High end automakers, such as Mercedes-Benz and Audi, offer in-car routers, which enable native Internet connectivity regardless of the driver's smartphone.

"That's certainly something we're looking at down the road," Parkman said.

Today, Mercedes-Benz offers a wireless router with its Mbrace2 infotainment system, allowing native access to online services such as Google Maps. A Search & Send feature allows drivers to send an address from Google Maps directly to the COMAND navigation system in the car.

Audi's infotainment system, Audi Connect, offers drivers access to Google's Local Search, Google Earth, headline news, local fuel prices, as well as mobile WiFi connectivity for up to eight people in the car.

One issue automakers need to address is keeping up with mobile device upgrades. For example, each time an updated Android, Windows or Apple phone is released, an infotainment system risks falling behind.

Most automobile manufacturers are two to four years behind the consumer technology curve, according to industry experts. It typically takes up to four years from when a vehicle is designed to the time it comes off the assembly line. Changing any one component is costly and requires vehicle design changes.


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