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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

Then there's the issue of incremental mobile device upgrades.

When Toyota launched its Scion brand BeSpoke premium audio system with Aha smartphone connectivity in September, it was only a couple of weeks before Apple released its mobile iOS 7 platform. The BeSpoke system didn't have an interface, so it wasn't compatible with the iPhone 5, said Boyadjis.

"For whatever reason, Toyota wasn't able to get Apple to give them the device specification in time. It fizzled sales," Boyadjis said.

Modularity is key to upgrades
Scion addressed the issue in the 2.0 version of BeSpoke. But the experience demonstrates that automakers and mobile device makers can be out of sync in hardware and mobile software deployments.

One way to address automotive and mobile compatibility issues is through the use of modular infotainment systems, where each year the head unit can be upgraded. Eventually, even aftermarket infotainment units could be available to consumers.

Audi, for example, was able to upgrade its Connect infotainment system in European models of the A3 automobile from 3G to 4G wireless connectivity this year simply by switching a single chip in the head unit. That upgrade will be available in the U.S. next spring, said Brad Sterz, corporate communications manager for Audi of America.

The upgrade breakthrough came last year with Audi's rollout of a modular infotainment toolkit, codenamed MIB. MIB separates the infotainment functions into two hardware components: a Radio & Car Control (RCC) Unit; and an Informational & Entertainment (IE) system, which handles multimedia, navigation and online functions.

The IE module is based on Nvidia's Tegra-2 system-on-a-chip. In order to upgrade with more processing power and software, all Audi has to do is switch the chip.

"As new video processing chips come out, we can just swap in the new Nvidia chip instead of having to wait four or six years [for the next vehicle upgrade]," Sterz said.

Sterz said auto owner's expectations have shifted in recent years. They come to expect that the same functionality they have on mobile devices and household electronics will also be available in their vehicle.

"In the not too distant future, you'll have a MyAudi app to allow you to pre-select which music service you prefer, like iHeart Radio or Pandora. So, instead of having to go through screens [on your smartphone] to find the service, it will feed directly into your car," Sterz said.


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