Apple's CarPlay vs. MirrorLink: Is there a need for both?

MirrorLink may someday be able to replicate any smartphone on a cars infotainment system

Both MirrorLink and Apple's new CarPlay will eventually be able to duplicate some iPhone functions on your car's in-vehicle infotainment system, but MirrorLink can also handle Android, Windows and Blackberry phones. So do we need CarPlay?

As Mercedes Benz became the first car company to demonstrate Apple's new CarPlay interface for iPhone 5 and later models at the Geneva Motor Show, it also reemphasized its support for MirrorLink's OS-agnostic standard for the same purpose.

Mercedes is a founding member of the Car Connectivity Consortium (CCC), a group of automobile and mobile phones makers developing "MirrorLink," a uniform standard for the integration of smartphones into auto radio head units or in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) systems.

The goal of Mercedes-Benz, alongside the integration of iOS and Android-based devices, "is to offer maximum compatibility for smartphones with other operating systems," the carmaker said in a statement.

Along with MirrorLink, Google's recently launched Open Automotive Alliance (OAA), aims to connect Android phones and IVI systems. The OAA is also backed by Audi, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai and chip maker Nvidia.

"There's not going to be a single automaker just choosing CarPlay. It's short-sighted to do that," said Mark Boyadjis, manager of Infotainment & HMI systems at IHS Automotive.

A demonstration of the MirrorLink API in a Mercedes Benz.

Today, automakers such as Ford allow users to plug iPhones into USB ports and get limited access to apps such as iTunes and streaming music services such as Pandora through proprietary APIs. But MirrorLink and other industry standardization efforts are focused on creating OS-agnostic interfaces.

Like CarPlay, MirrorLink connects a smartphone to a vehicles IVI system via a USB cord and drivers immediately gain access to phone applications via the car's navigation screen and dashboard/steering-wheel buttons.

In 2011, Alpine's ICS-X8 IVI became world's first radio head unit to incorporate the MirrorLink standard. The IVI MirrorLinks with Nokia Android smart phones.

"What's very interesting, when we look at what Apple just put up on their website, that's what we've been doing for two years. The MirrorLink experience looks like [CarPlay]," said Alan Ewing, president of the CCC. "It really validated the approach we'd already taken. But, we think the best mousetrap should win."

Apple is not likely to join the CCC anytime soon, since Apple tends to choose proprietary solutions over shared ones. But the MirrorLink standard supports third-party app developers and could someday introduce a workaround, allowing iPhones to connect to IVIs.

""The Apple [CarPlay] is just one standard. Right now MirrorLink is not compatible with iPhone..., but it can be," Boyadjis said. "It's basically going to be a battle between iPhone, Android and Windows, as well."

MirrorLink is a device interoperability standard and API that basically mirrors smartphone apps on a vehicle's IVI system. The IVI must carry the MirrorLink API on a specific chipset in order to work with certain smartphones.

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