Competition in automotive technology has long been about who’s got the most horsepower, the best towing capacity or the fastest acceleration. These days, though, it’s all about having the slickest infotainment systems and most-connected cars.
The shift in focus from what’s under the hood to what’s behind the dashboard has brought a largely covert war to the auto industry over the operating systems that will control these gadgets. As in the smartphone biz, the battle line is between proprietary and open source software. The outcome will determine what these systems look like, how they work and how distinctive they are as automakers embrace walled gardens or open ecosystems.
It would be difficult to overstate the importance of getting this right. The amount of software in the average vehicle has grown exponentially — a typical new car has about 100 million lines of code — with the advent of sophisticated, cloud-connected infotainment systems. Software has become a competitive advantage as vital to General Motors or Toyota as it is to Apple or Google. The trouble is, automotive development cycles are measured in years, while the consumer electronics industry works in months. The race is on to ramp up development, which is why we’re seeing companies like Cisco get into the automotive game and electronics execs like Apple’s Eddy Cue taking a seat on Ferrari’s board.
More on Automotive Connectivity
Sprint, Chrysler Link Up With ‘Velocity’ In-Car Connectivity
Siri ‘Eyes Free’ Hops Aboard Chevy’s Spark
Cars Connect With Apps, the Cloud at CES
Automotive First: Tesla Pushes an Automotive Software Patch Wirelessly
Apple Exec Takes a Seat at Ferrari’s Table“The theme I hear time and time again from every single one of our customers is you’ve got to help us move at the pace of consumer electronics,” Derek Kuhn, vice president of sales and marketing for QNX Software Systems, told Wired. “It’s no longer acceptable to innovate at the pace of automotive.”
Proprietary software still rules, with QNX and Microsoft dominating the field. Windows Embedded is best known as the platform behind Ford’s successful Sync system, and it underpins similar systems by Kia, Fiat and 15 other automakers. QNX develops infotainment software for Audi, BMW, Ford, GM, Honda, Mercedes, and Toyota and is used in millions of vehicles.
But with Linux getting into the game with the Automotive Grade Linux Work Group — which includes Nissan and Toyota as well as “tier-one” suppliers such as Harman, Intel, and Nvidia — open source will grow more popular. Since forming in 2009, the nonprofit Genivi that includes BMW, GM, Honda, Hyundai and Nissan as well as Harman, Bosch, Continental and other suppliers has pushed for “the broad adoption of an in-vehicle infotainment open source development platform.” In addition, automakers like Ford and BMW are launching open source initiatives like OpenXC and webinos, respectively.
Automakers like the open source approach because it gives them broader control of their software platforms and the ability to tailor the features and experience to suit their customers. They can