Apple's 'iOS in the Car' will be top car infotainment interface by 2018

Survey finds most drivers hate their informatics systems today, but experts say big improvements on the way

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In many cases, the report revealed touch-screen infotainment systems have been buggy, had frustrating screen freezes, a touch-control lag, and in some cases a reluctance to recognize a cell-phone, an MP3 device, or a voice command.

"The category that includes in-car electronics generated significantly more complaints than any of the 17 categories of problem areas in the survey. Complaints include issues with screen freezes, touch-control lag, voice recognition malfunctions and compatibility problems with cellphones and MP3 devices," Consumer Reports said in a statement.

American vehicles lead the pack in low infotainment system rankings. Of 34 Ford and Lincoln models in the survey, two-thirds were ranked "much worse than average," the lowest rating available.

Ford automobiles use the MyFord IVI and Lincoln uses the MyLincoln Touch infotainment system.

Meanwhile, Mark Boyadjis, a senior analyst for infotainment systems at IHS Automotive, describes Toyota's EnTunes IVI as "inconsistent" at best.

Part of the problem is that automakers such as Ford and Toyota, the first and second automakers to use IVIs, also offered few amenities because the early immaturity of the technology, Boyadjis said. Also, he noted, the vehicle development lifecycle is typically four years long, so when a 2013 car rolls off the assembly line, it generally sports 2009 technology.

"The biggest problem is when [IVIs] hit the market on a major level, it was around the same time consumers started having smartphones and tablets in their pockets as well. Inherently, the operation and speed of those mobile devices is going to be better," Boyuadjis said.

"[Automakers] found themselves having to offer [IVI] for competitive reasons to seem technologically advanced, but any of these automakers would find themselves hard pressed to keep up with consumer electronic trends," he said.

A successful industry effort to standardize IVI systems on open source software could push the IVI market forward by leaps and bounds, some experts say.

Automakers are now working to standardize on a Linux-based mobile operating system.

Rudi Streif, who leads the Automotive Grade Linux workgroup for the Linux Foundation, says the use of proprietary software developed by third-party suppliers to power their infotainment systems is the main reason most of today's IVI's have limited functionality. He noted that such systems can only use proprietary car-based apps.

An open-source IVI operating system will provide a reusable platform consisting of core services, middleware and open application layer interfaces that eliminate the redundant efforts to create separate proprietary systems. And an open-source platform will let carmakers can share upgrades as they arrive.

Automakers could then focus on differentiating infotainment systems through user interfaces, which only consist of about 5% to 10% of a vehicle's IVI software.

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian, or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His email address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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