IAA: Apple iPhone plays Android to pimp your drive...

By Jonny Evans

If you plan on tramping through the hall's of Europe's giant IAA motor show in Frankfurt this week, you could be forgiven for thinking there's an Apple [AAPL] iOS future for the vehicle industry, but think again, for already there's signs that Android is competing in an attempt to pimp your ride.


Revving to go...

Away from the luxury and concept vehicles, the main thrust in the motor industry these days seems to favor the search for alternative fuels, excellence in miles per fuel unit and advanced safety and materials construction. But that really isn't all....

Motor vehicle manufacturers seem already to recognize that in future the iPhone may well become your GPS navigation unit, as well as your in-car entertainment system, car keys and wallet, and the level of integration for Apple devices is becoming de rigeur in many of the new vehicles making their debut at this show.


[ABOVE: Bentley gets the iPad message...]

iPads hit the infotainment system

No surprise that Apple's most-starred GPS partner, TomTom, has an announcement at the show. This time the firm has upped the ante on its previous iPhone integration and introduced an iPad-optimized version of its app. Available for free to existing iPhone customers, it has enhanced screen resolution, sharpened graphics and more intuitive controls. It will be made available this Fall.

When it comes to luxury brands, Bentley is a high-class marque. Interesting then that Bentley Motors is showcasing a new multimedia connectivity concept "designed for executives inside the luxurious, hand-crafted cabin of the company's Mulsanne vehicle."

Rear passengers receive individual Apple iPad with full Internet access integrated into retractable picnic tables and equipped with Bluetooth iPad keyboards. There's also a large, drop-down LED screen for movie and TV watching in the back seats.

Even more Apple in the boot, where the Mac mini sits. This acts as the media center and keeps the iPads in sync and more. You can play videos and watch TV thanks to this device. There's control keys everywhere, a bottle cooler, and "sophisticated mood lighting" inside this rather tasty, rather posh "executive vehicle".


[ABOVE: The Volvo XC90 boasts iPhone and Android app integration.]

Driving hard for app integration

Volvo is in on the iAct with its own mobile app for iPhone and Android. This simple app lets you find your parked car, using a map and digital compass. The app also gives drivers access to a wide range of information: fuel level, remaining range to empty tank, average fuel consumption, average speed, odometer reading and trip meter reading.

Even more sophisticated, it can perform a health check of the vehicle -- check your bulbs, brake fluid level, coolant level, engine oil level and engine oil pressure.

This is just the beginning, Volvo explains the app as being just "the first step in our connected strategy."  

Can car ignition and control be far behind? Can voice-activated security protection for parked vehicles be in some developers spotlight? I think it most likely -- particularly as the app is already a key, the driver can already lock and unlock the car just by tapping the iPhone's screen!

Aha Ferrari...

Harman International (who some may also know as the parent company behind some of the most well-designed Apple speaker systems, including the speakers provided in the box with the so-called 'sunflower iMac') is at the show, or at least its Aha business unit is, driving its message home with Ferrari. The company is demonstrating its Aha app integration for Ferrari.

This is interesting because it shows how auto manufacturers and solutions providers are moving away from notions of iOS integration that see the device enabled as a music and telephone solution, and towards a new model that sees them levy the power of cloud-based services for motorists.

In the case of the Aha app and an iPhone that's connected to the Ferrari head unit, drivers can access a number of services, including Slacker, Yelp, Twitter, and traffic reports. Choose Slacker and you get a music stream. Aha is available as a free app for iPhone. Expect more from this: the company, "is currently working with automotive and consumer electronics manufacturers on multiple integrations that will launch throughout 2012."

Choose Yelp and you get a much-improved augmented reality-like search service, including pre-made searches for coffee and food -- and based not just on the location of you and your vehicle, but also on what direction you are headed...pick a destination and you'll be given verbal instructions to get you there...(the future is now, people -- will it be better tomorrow?)

Ford focus on the customer trip

Moving slightly away from the Apple-verse, Ford is exploring new notions in terms of smartphone (at present iOS and Android) implementation. "Our goal is to focus on enriching a customer's every experience with their vehicle --  by personalizing it, adapting it, and creating unique, unexpected features that surprise and delight them," said Derrick Kuzak, group vice president of Global Product Development in a release.

"In the Ford Evos Concept, this objective is explored and extended to the area of connectivity, where the intent is not to convert the vehicle into a smartphone, but rather to provide personalized and safe connection to the outside world in an enriching manner designed totally for the vehicle context."

That sounds impressive. What it means, at least in Ford's world, is that by integrating always-connected smartphones within the car's actual electronics systems drive can access everything from navigation, weather conditions and directional information to their music collections, Google Maps and voice-activated augmented reality services (when these arrive in iOS 5 later this month).

[ABOVE: An online find, but a view to a future, probably.]

Exploring the possible, driving the dream

"The possibilities are fascinating when we explore how to enable a seamless lifestyle between home, office and car linked by access to the driver's personal information,"said Ford's CTO, Paul Mascarenas.

Want a car that can close your garage doors for you? That's the idea here. Want a car that can automatically timetable your day, with help from your phone? That's on the cards, too, Ford explains.

If you've read this far I don't want to disappoint you. It seems that in the high-tech world, where iOS lead Android eventually follows, in Google's time-honored tradition of allowing others to actually break into new markets.

In this case, Swedish auto manufacturer, Saab, is Android's big-name IFA newsmaker, where is demonstrating its new Saab Iqon system, a: "Ground-breaking car communications platform using Android operating system."

Does it break new ground?

A new app model

I'm not sure. The solution aims to boost car "infotainment" and is based on apps, online services and multimedia functions. It's curated (at least to an extent), so you download your apps via Saab's Android IQon app store.

It's a hybrid, of course -- Android is the OS but Saab will issue third-party developers with a vehicle application programming interface (API) providing access to more than 500 signals from different sensors in the vehicle.

Available data includes vehicle speed, location and direction of travel, driver workload, yaw rate, steering wheel angle, engine speed and torque, inside and outside temperature, barometric pressure and the sun's position.

It's an interesting experiment in opening up a car system to external developers, and Android people will likely see this as a pat on the back for the so-called 'openness' of the Android system. Though you do have to hope no rascally developers will exploit Android's weak app security to create backdoors through which car thieves can, for example, open your car and drive it away....

"With Saab IQon, there are no limits to the potential for innovation," says Johan Formgren, Head of Saab Aftersales and commercial project leader for IQon. "We will be inviting the global Android developer community to use their imagination and ingenuity."

In a release, the company extols the virtues of open development. "Saab's collegiate development strategy -- open innovation -- is a 'first' in the automotive industry and provides a faster, more efficient and more flexible alternative to the conventional, in-house development of vehicle infotainment services," the company says.

Can Apple open up?

It is very interesting to note that this could be a great implementation for Android development. Auto manufacturers can vet the available apps at their stores, while providing hand-picked developers with unique APIs for product development. In this case, Saab will evaluate and approve all apps made available via its store (making this Android store one of the safest around).

It seems pretty clear to me that this kind of partnership model is something Apple will have to find a way to match if it wishes to remain competitive in future third party implementations like this.

Sure, it may be Saab today, but in future most of your devices will possess some form of intelligence, and while Apple's approach might be to offer the whole widget, since some of these devices won't be designed in Cupertino it makes some sense to figure out a third party 'iOS controlled' ecosystem for use by car manufacturers and connected microwave or washing machine makers across the planet.

Or cede this interesting new market to Android...

I hope you have enjoyed this glimpse at the auto industry. Mobile devices are impacting in so many different ways at the moment, it certainly makes things interesting.

What have you seen or what would you wish for in terms of iOS integration in vehicles or other devices? Does Apple need to open up to embrace new opportunities, or not? Let me know in comments below, and please,  follow me on Twitter so I can let you know when new reports get published here first on Computerworld.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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