It’s difficult to comprehend the schizophrenia of the automotive industry unless you’ve been living with it for longer than you can remember. One minute OEMs are embracing suppliers, the next they are beating them into the earth, forcing down their margins. The latest manifestation of this schizophrenia (some may call it give and take) is the contest over infotainment operating system dominance. Which automotive OS is best? Which is gaining? Which is losing? Does anyone care?
The questions are all serious ones and they reflect the struggles at tier one suppliers to determine which operating systems to support. The issue was highlighted, yet again, at the annual Fachkongress Elektronik in Ludwigsburg last week. At the event, Audi voiced its support for QNX, Microsoft restated its devotion to the automotive industry as part of its wider embedded software initiative, and BMW announced its first Genivi implementation for a MY2013 vehicle program. But might these commitments shrivel in time as so many others before them have?
What’s new in the current debate is the increased assertiveness of OEMs. OEMs are no longer content to take whatever a tier one supplier may deliver. In addition, there is a perception that the operating system represents a potential point of cost reduction. OEMs are taking charge in a variety of ways including specifying the operating system in the RFQ, creating a coalition for sharing and re-using code as in the case of Genivi, or getting into the system integration business itself as in the case of Audi’s e.solutions venture with Elektrobit.
This new assertiveness on the part of OEMs has placed tier one suppliers in a bind. For many of these organizations, software and, by extension, the operating system, has represented the special sauce that the tier one brings to the RFQ proposition. From a tier one supplier’s perspective, the OEMs are seeking to strain that special sauce, which translates roughly as added value or cost, draining it of its value and ultimately diminishing the justification for an expensive solution.
OEMs are hiring software engineers and programmers the way they used to hire line workers and tier one suppliers are feeling the pressure. The usual schizophrenia enters the picture when tier one’s try to make sense of what OEMs say they want. OEMs say they want open source software – as in the case of the Genivi Alliance built around Linux – yet they say, generally, that Android (also based on Linux) is too open. They say they prefer closed software systems – as in the case of Microsoft or QNX – but not too closed.
It is a clever supplier, indeed, that can make sense of these conflicting messages. But with five-year development cycles in mind, hard decisions must be made. The fundamental criteria for evaluating operating systems break down to:
Cross Platform Functionality
All of the available operating system platforms have their merits and are competitive on each of these criteria with some notable exceptions. But it is worth considering the relative merits of each of the most popular platforms.
Android is considered by many OEMs and suppliers to be “too open” – by which is meant vulnerable to attack. Android is supported most notably by Continental and Parrot and, indirectly, by a rapidly growing developer community and a growing range of hot selling handsets, Android is an OS to be reckoned with regardless of the qualms regarding its openness. And the widening use of an abstraction layer of code in automotive systems has rendered moot most security concerns. Our sources at Strategy Analytics say RFQs requiring Android have already been awarded.
There is a broader battle surrounding Android in that the technology is being extended to a wide range of consumer electronics categories including televisions, netbooks and tablet PCs. Google’s promotion of Android into other domains places the Linux-based OS in direct confrontation with Microsoft and Apple which also have designs on the consumer electronics OS market.
The fact that Android is being leveraged to facilitate connectivity to the wider device eco-system makes it an attractive choice for auto makers. Even GM/OnStar is considering Android for its next generation platform. Nevertheless, industry resistance persists. When it comes to automotive operating systems, though, Strategy Analytics recommends a dispassionate consideration of the relevant criteria and all signals suggest Android is a legitimate contender for future automotive platforms.
Genivi is a Linux-based, industry-coalition driven OS intended to reduce development costs for OEMs by re-using and sharing software code. Genivi inspires both respect and anger in the industry. But, again, Strategy Analytics recommends a dispassionate evaluation.
Genivi inspires respect because it has been promulgated by Intel and BMW, which have attracted a broad coalition of OEMs, tier ones and second and third tier suppliers. It inspires anger because coalition members of lesser status feel their influence is diminished.
Most industry participants feel they must “participate” in the Genivi coalition so as not to miss out on any business opportunities with the leaders of the coalition: Intel, BMW and GM. At the same time, skepticism abounds regarding the length of time required for Genivi to impact the industry, the motives of the founders, and the internal decision-making processes of the organization.
The impact of Genivi can probably best be compared to the influence of Autosar or JasPar. These initiatives unfolded over many years with the true nature of their impact only recently becoming clear. A typical benchmark to put Genivi into perspective, is the 10 years it took for Nokia’s “terminal mode” technology to reach the market as a commercial standard.
As for the motives of the Genivi founders, it is simply to share and re-use code with the intention of reducing the cost of development. Leading Genivi participants expend a great deal of energy emphasizing the limited amount of software code that will be impacted by this sharing, but second- and third-tier players in the organization remain suspicious.
BMW’s announcement at the Ludwigsburg event of te first vehicle implementation of Genivi for model year 2013 was momentous for the organization and the industry. But industry sources say the entry nav version of the platform in question – BMW’s NBT, for Next Big Thing – is being built around an nVidia processor. NVidia is not a participant in Genivi. Even in its first implementation, Genivi is raising questions about the solidarity of its coalition. (The premium NBT package will be QNX-based on an Intel platform.)
Linux, in all its forms, appears to be the most popular operating system in the industry. Linux benefits from not having the support of any large organization with an industry shaping agenda. As an open source platform it is perfectly malleable and well-suited to a rapidly changing marketplace and technology eco-system.
Linux is open and yet not perceived as representing a security risk and it is showing up in a growing range of systems and devices both within and outside the automotive industry. As in the case of Android, developer support is strong, and some tier ones previously working in older platforms, have begun shifting to Linux, as the safe choice. Robert Bosch and Clarion/Hitachi are just two of many suppliers that have turned to Linux even as they weigh other options. Visteon has been showing Ubuntu implementations during and since the Consumer Electronics Show in January.
Microsoft, meanwhile, has one of the hottest hands at the OS table. The company routinely points to its two-million unit success with Ford Sync and its one-million unit (and counting) achievement with Fiat’s Blue&Me, with similar expectations for the soon-to-be-launched Kia Uvo platform. But Microsoft still struggles with a legacy of suspicion in the automotive industry.
Car makers and OEMs frequently express their concern that the automotive industry is an afterthought for Microsoft. Microsoft has fostered this thought process by shuffling executives into and out of the automotive group. At the Ludwigsburg event the newest head of the Embedded Software group, Kevin Dallas, had his debut making a forceful statement for the Microsoft platform. In spite of any concerns about Microsoft's devotion, suppliers Alpine and Mitsubishi in Japan and Continental and Magneti Marelli in Europe have profitably embraced the platform.
Microsoft can rightfully claim perhaps the widest developer support in the software industry. The company’s Bing search initiative is making impressive gains and its developer tools are widely supported. Microsoft even has its own alternative to Flash, called Silverlight, which is expected to see automotive implementations in the near future.
Where Microsoft is weak, at least at the moment, is in the mobile market. Where Android has been able to counter Apple’s growing influence in mobile phone operating systems, Microsoft is struggling. Microsoft’s influence on the automotive market would no doubt be greater at this time if the company could point to a stronger position in the handset market. For now, Microsoft will be content to support individual OEM customers. Building on its success at Ford and Fiat and anticipated gains at Kia, it is likely that Microsoft will have a new OEM partner to announce within the next year. Chrysler and Mercedes are the most obvious but not the only candidates for a future announcement.
QNX is in the strongest position it has ever been in in the automotive OS market. Harman’s design wins over the past five years have created a monumental backlog of premium infotainment implementations that will keep the company busy for the foreseeable future. At the Ludwigsburg event, QNX gained the endorsement of Audi as a critical element in its strategic plans. The company can also lay claim to the support of Panasonic and Denso, reflecting strong relationships with Chrysler and Toyota.
QNX is perceived by many in the industry as being vulnerable for its lack of developer support and its lack of influence beyond the automotive market. But these perceptions may be subject to revision following the company’s acquisition by RIM. RIM creates instant credibility for QNX in the mobile market and QNX for RIM in the automotive market.
In its current form, QNX is challenged by the need to keep pace with new drivers for mobile devices arriving on the market on a weekly basis. Microsoft and Android have the luxury of actually providing the drivers to many of these devices. QNX will gain from its RIM relationship, but the challenge will be to expand the capabilities of its operating system without increasing its system requirements. It is clear, though, that QNX has already gained a significant boost from its separation from Harman, making it easier for competing tier ones to adopt the platform.
The ongoing automotive operating system debate is complex and not easily resolved. Even aging platforms such as Micro-Itron or VxWorks (Nissan, PSA, Volkswagen) continue to persist and most vehicle infotainment systems and devices use multiple operating systems. In fact, the typical car might have a dozen or more operating systems processing information. The automotive business is not a zero sum game.
Even at the Ludwigsburg event last week, new OS players Mentor Graphics and OpenSynergy were on hand taking in the latest industry developments even as they are laying the groundwork to make their own impact. Strategy Analytics can only recommend that industry executives make their OS decisions dispassionately and avoid prejudice and suspicion. There is plenty of business to go around and a win by one OS is not a defeat for another.
Global OE Automotive Multimedia and Communications Systems Forecast 2009-2017 -
Joanne Blight - http://tinyurl.com/24n9nz5
Global Automotive OE Audio/Visual (A/V) Systems Forecast 2009-2017 - Joanne Blight - http://tinyurl.com/2g897ax