AUTOMOTIVE MULTIMEDIA AND COMMUNICATIONS

Detailed system and semiconductor demand analysis for in-vehicle infotainment, telematics and vehicle-device connectivity features.

January 15, 2010 10:01 rlanctot
Denso privately showed an Internet connectivity platform called Blue Harmony at the Detroit Auto Show this week. Despite its name which suggests an emphasis on Bluetooth, Blue Harmony is actually built around a 3G cellular connection enhanced with Wi-Fi for internal and external communication and Bluetooth. It is designed as a center stack solution with full-size, touch-screen display for navigation and other functions. The announcement shows Denso offering its own all-purpose alternative to similar solutions from Continental and Visteon. Blue Harmony's introduction reflects the ongoing efforts being made by Tier One suppliers to provide for smartphone integration and application downloads. Blue Harmony is designed to function with a variety of hardware and software configurations. The positioning of the system is clearly targeted at higher end applications as opposed to simple Bluetooth connectivity offerings such as Ford's Sync. Denso is being specific about the broad range of functionality enabled by the Blue Harmony system, but is being deliberately ambiguous about specific component partners and HMI, leaving these choices to potential customers. The stated objective of Blue Harmony is to enable connected consumer applications including access to music, news and traffic information while enabling safe implementation of social networking applications such as Facebook and Twitter. Flexibility and customizability are critical elements of the system including the ability to download applications capable of enabling services such as Pandora Internet radio. OEMs will be able to target different consumer segments with customized user interfaces or different application portfolios. Blue Harmony will also deploy a wide range of voice-enabled applications such as news readers or messaging. And in addition to Wi-Fi technology, the system also incorporates vehicle-to-vehicle communication capability.

January 13, 2010 16:01 rlanctot

Genivi Challenges Automotive OS Duopoly, Disrupts Business Models

 

The Genivi Alliance had a coming out party at the Consumer Electronics Show this week. Aside from the formal launch of the alliance at CeBIT in the winter of 2009, the organization has chosen smaller stages from which to tell its story and attract additional partners. At the CES show, however, Visteon raised the Genivi flag high in introducing new automotive infotainment solutions.

 

Genivi is currently positioned in the industry as an alternative to Microsoft and QNX as an automotive operating system for a range of cockpit applications. The business models of these three organizations differ significantly, though, and the objectives of the Genivi Alliance are not strictly related to taking the place of either of Microsoft’s automotive OS offerings or QNX. The stated objectives appear more closely aligned with reducing development costs for OEMs and, more recently, may include shifting ownership of intellectual property to the OEMs as well.

 

QNX and Microsoft are not the only operating systems available to automotive suppliers. There still remain multiple Linux distributions – including the recently emergent Android being positioned for automotive applications by Continental - as well as versions of M-Itron. But when it comes to the development of the most advanced automotive cockpit systems on the road today, QNX and Microsoft are dominant.

 

When it comes to business models, the two companies differ significantly. Microsoft has a reputation for being expensive, but mitigates the expense with marketing dollars. QNX takes a more traditional approach to software licensing and is a much quieter player in the market, from a marketing or marketing dollars standpoint. Microsoft has found success in both the high-end infotainment segment and the low end (Ford Sync, Fiat Blue&Me).

 

QNX has seen much of its deployments in the luxury segment in connection with parent Harman International, but has also had its share of success in Bluetooth solutions, instrument clusters and GM’s OnStar system. QNX’s most recent success has centered on its work with Lexus and parent Toyota which appears to have opened the door to additional business in Japan. QNX claims in excess of 12M cars deployed with its software.

 

The Genivi strategy, rooted in the shared-code model of Linux, is designed to speed product development by identifying and distributing those layers of operating system code that are identical across platforms. Of course, all operating systems have an element of shared code, but the Genivi approach creates a “star chamber-like” panel of alliance members that vet new additions to the underlying shared code, presumably leaving ample room for alliance members to differentiate their solutions in higher levels of the software stack such as HMI are other application-specific areas.

 

Genivi had its CES debut in the Visteon booth. While one physical platform was shown based on an Intel ATOMM processor, executives said it could be swapped out for solutions from competing silicon suppliers such as Renesas or Freescale, depending on the customer requirement. This is one element of the Genivi platform, like other industry platforms it is intended to allow virtual plug-n-play swapping of processors and other system elements.

 

Visteon executives noted that the initial release, Genivi 1.0, occurred December 17 and the organization is now in the midst of a 21-business day review by its membership. Genivi announced that it surpassed the 50-member mark before CES including such significant partners as Renesas and Nissan. The Genivi 1.0 review is to be completed Jan. 21. During the period of the review the Board of Genivi may receive, via its executive director, any potential member claims of IP which were not contributed by the member under the terms of the IPR policy that they feel are infringed upon with the candidate release. The review period is also indeed to perform a careful review of the documentation of inbound and outbound licensing of the components included in the release. In no notifications occur, the board is expected to vote in a meeting Jan. 27 to release Genivi 1.0. Otherwise, the Board may delay until IP notifications are research and resolved or until license documentation is complete.

 

Because Genivi is so new, rumors continue to swirl around critical business model issues such as IP ownership by OEMs implementing Genivi solutions and around the extent to which it may creep into upper levels of the software stack such as HMI and the application level. For now, the industry will have to wait for its chance to see the first implementation.

 

Genivi will coexist in the market with both QNX and Microsoft including in some of the same systems. This is true for Android as well, which will not replace QNX or Microsoft in the short run. In the end, while additional versions of Linux will continue to emerge and find a place in the automotive market, the duopoly of Microsoft and QNX is likely to persist for some time. Genivi stands to have its greatest influence over time as additional layers of code are added. Participants in the alliance will be watching most closely to see that their value add contribution is preserved.


December 31, 2009 18:12 rlanctot
Audi's announcement of an optional Google Earth-enabled navigation system for the 2011 A8 due in mid-2010 has raised a question for competitors: To 3G or NOT to 3G? Having just put a messy transition from analog to digital technology in the rearview mirror, the automotive industry is facing yet another key point of inflection between 2.5G, 3G and 4G wireless technologies for embedded telematics solutions. Several automakers have already taken some preliminary decisions leading down the 2.5G path for their future telematics platforms focusing on safety and security. The belief is that additional functionality can be handled via the customer’s smartphone – and that the primary function of automotive telematics remains automatic crash notification and, perhaps, navigation. Some OEMs are targeting the wider spectrum of location-based applications with their related revenue opportunities enabled by 3G technology. And QNX and Alcatel-Lucent have partnered to prepare the market for a 4G LTE future. It is worth noting that QNX is a strategic partner with Audi as is Elektrobit, both of whom are developing cloud-based, location-based solutions for cars. Big decisions await the industry in 2010. Car makers will want to avoid the cost of a 3G module. They will also want to avoid the cost of data plans, hoping to tag along on the customer's data plan via a physical or Bluetooth connection to the smartphone. This strategy will work in the short term, but Audi is one OEM pointing the way to a 3G future with its announcement of a Google Earth-enabled navigation system for the 2011 A8. Initially built around a GPRS/EDGE platform, the car maker has announced its intention to bring UMTS on board. This decision will put Audi into the telematics forefront where it can be expected to be joined by Mercedesand BMW. The key to success will be leveraging location-based technology to deliver a superior value proposition to the driver. With 3G, the full spectrum of content and services and related business models will be at the company's disposal and not dependent on the capabilities of the customer's smartphone or a flaky Bluetooth connection, though Bluetooth will have a role to play. Ford will have the sexiest solutions at next week's CES event in Vegas, but Audi has served notice that it is stepping into the telematics ring and will be a contender. By this time in 2010, the luxury segment may have a new technology leader.

December 26, 2009 18:12 rlanctot
The latest connected portable navigation device from Best Buy, the Insignia NS-CNV43, is both groundbreaking and disappointing. The device introduces Twitter posting of destinations – an industry first - and maintains the Google Search feature of the original Insignia connected PNDs, while adding other connected content services for weather, gas prices, and movie listings. But despite its virtues and advances some vital ingredients are still missing and in a head-to-head comparison to an embedded navigation system in a BMW, the Traffic.com sourced traffic data appears to be inferior to the Inrix-enabled ClearChannel Total Traffic Network data in the BMW. At $149.99 (list: $199.99), the feature rich NS-CNV43 makes a powerful value statement in a Best Buy department crowded with 20+ devices mainly from Garmin and TomTom and including units intended for hiking and boating. The device has haptic touch feedback and Bluetooth phone connectivity, unusual features in a relatively inexpensive PND. (Surprisingly, the device does not allow for voice dialing or voice destination entry, limiting the attraction of the Bluetooth.) (For details on other PNDs and connected PNDs: http://bit.ly/7Zgw7V.) Improvements on the original connected PNDs from Best Buy, introduced more than a year ago, include an improved windshield mount and text-to-speech. (Nuance has replaced Loquendo.) The Google Search function, alone, is an attractive proposition, but the addition of other content services and Bluetooth make the device a standout. (The Lithium-ion battery included with the device is described as having a two-hour capacity, but in the tester’s experience was capable of lasting less than half an hour and gave repeated low battery warnings almost immediately after being disconnected.) The two biggest shortcoming in the new device relate to the routing software and traffic information – elements critical to its performance. From a routing standpoint, the device delivers the user to the anticipated destination in most cases. But while testing the device in Detroit recently, the NS-CNV43 appeared to fall victim to a Michigan left turn on a divided local highway, putting the user in an endless loop or “make a U-turn” instructions half a mile before reaching the destination. This failure was reminiscent of several similar malfunctions experienced with the original connected Insignia PNDs which are built around deCarta software. (The device also does not display the current speed limit, which is a popular, though-often inaccurate, PND feature) Just as important as routing acumen is the integration of traffic data. Reliable traffic data is critical to determining both arrival time and the quickest route. On two recent journeys the NS-CNV43 appeared to be outperformed by the embedded navigation system in the BMW, against which it was being tested. On a trip to FedEx Field for a Monday night football game working through a combination of rush-hour and pre-game traffic, the Insignia-branded device was unhelpful and appeared lost relative to the unerring guidance from the on-board system. Similarly, navigating rush-hour and holiday traffic to a dinner engagement, the BMW was able to find a back road, avoiding a local highway jam to which the Best Buy device appeared to be committed. Following the guidance of the BMW navigation, the tester arrived at the restaurant ahead of a second car that had a 10-minute head start. All in all, the connectivity of the Best Buy device is attractive and the Twitter function is fun, although probably only practical in limited circumstances. Of greater concern is the longer term cost of the device. The NS-CNV43 comes with a free three-month subscription to the Insignia Internet connected services – and includes the warning: “Insignia reserves the right, at it’s (sic) discretion, to limit excessive data usage on any device.” One of the attractions of the device is that its box promises: “On-demand connected services – no monthly fee required.” What this means is that when the free access to connected services expire they can be purchased on an a la carte, as needed-basis directly from the device. According to a CNET review, as few as three days of service can be purchased for $4.99 or as much as 12 months for $99, with various increments in between. In Summary The new device has improved TTS and an industry-first Twitter function along with Google Search, connected content, Bluetooth and Traffic.com data. The low $149.99 retail price is somewhat offset by the cost of on-demand subscription services that are more expensive than offerings from TomTom and Garmin. Best Buy is making progress, but has more work to do in refining its portable navigation offering and integration of Traffic.com data or the data itself appears to be inferior to ClearChannel Total Traffic Network data.

December 6, 2009 21:12 rlanctot

Clarion has reported receiving high marks for its factory-installed, voice-activated navigation system with Sirius Travel Link in the Lincoln MKS. The company says its system ranked highest in J.D. Power and Associates’ 2009 Navigation Usage and Satisfaction Study and the system in the Ford Flex is second on the list. Navigation systems in five Ford and Lincoln vehicles earned five of the top 10 positions, according to the company.

 

The announcement is significant for several reasons including the fact that the contract with Ford was won by Clarion just two or three years ago – long before the automotive industry meltdown was ever dreamed of. It is also important because the Clarion navigation systems are available on more than 15 Ford vehicles and Ford is showing the most visible success in the marketplace among the Detroit Three.

 

The news is not only important to Clarion, as the market moves into a recovery phase, it is also important to Sirius Satellite Radio and other Ford partners including Microsoft. It shows Ford’s increasing clout in a market littered with downturn casualties.

 

The downturn in the auto industry robbed Sirius of its major growth engine - new car sales. In its most recent earnings report, Sirius had surprisingly positive yet still modest good news. Reported revenue of $629.6M increased 2.75% year over year. Subscriber revenue, representing 93.3% of total revenue, rose 2.64% year over year. Net advertising revenue declined 30.5% year over year. Equipment revenue declined 18.3% year over year.  Net additions of new subscribers were 102,295 subscribers, or 0.6%, on a sequential basis, vs. a net loss of 405,181, or 2.14%, year over year. The company ended the quarter with a subscriber count of 18.5M.

 

Churn, defined by Sirius as the monthly average of self-pay deactivations for the quarter divided by the average self-pay subscriber balance for the quarter, was 2% in the quarter and 2.1% year-to-date. This compares with 1.7% in the third quarter of 2008. The conversion rate, defined by Sirius as the percentage of subscribers that receive Sirius service and convert to self-paying after the initial promotion period, was 46.8% in the third quarter of 2009 vs. 47% in the year-ago quarter. For year-to-date 2009, the conversion rate was 45.3% vs. 49.2% in the first nine months of 2008.

 

The average revenue per user, derived from adding both subscriber and advertising revenues then dividing that total by the average number of subscribers, was $10.87 vs. $10.51 a year ago. ARPU has averaged $10.67 for the first nine months of 2009, a 1.3% increase year over year.

 

The company faces continuing market, technology and content challenges including its contract with “shock jock” Howard Stern (expiring in late 2010), future infrastructure investments and competition from technologies ranging from Internet radio, podcasting and automotive Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity to the impact of sun spot activity on service over the next few years.

 

The success of Ford and Clarion does make for strange bedfellows, though as Ford’s Sync technology may present one of the most immediate competitive threats to Sirius should Ford decide to deploy the Internet radio capability it demonstrated at last year’s Consumer Electronics Show.

 

Until its Ford win, Clarion was probably best known for its work for Nissan and Infiniti. Here, again, Ford’s success is a boon to both Clarion and its partners including Zenrin for map content and Nuance for voice technology. Ford’s success has thrown off additional accolades for many of these suppliers contributing to their success on other platforms and with other suppliers. Sirius, for example, has just announced that Mercedes will add Sirius traffic to its 2010 model year vehicles.

 

The success of the Ford system has a lot to do with its user interface which includes an enhanced, touch-enabled display with high contrast and company-specific colors and graphics. It is also noted for the performance of its voice recognition system. The combined solution is a powerful on-board and connectivity-enabled system that continues to receive high scores from consumers and serves as a model for the industry.


November 19, 2009 11:11 Ian Riches

I have just returned from an enjoyable and informative couple of days at the International Automotive Electronics Conference in Paris.  As well as making a presentation on short- and long-term growth trends in automotive electronics, I also moderated a panel discussion on how the automotive industry can meet consumer demands and needs. Thinking that the best way to start meeting needs is to stop annoying people, I asked the assembled approximately 200 delegates to think of the most annoying feature on their current vehicle.  I then asked them what vehicle domain that feature was in.  One or two delegates found aspects of their powertrain annoying.  Very few, if any, were annoyed by comfort/convenience or chassis features.  However, I would estimate that over 90% of those present raised their hands when asked if their most annoying feature was in the multimedia/infotainment domain. Talking with individuals afterwards, a picture emerged of two main categories of annoyance:

  • Missing or incomplete features.  For example, an expensive OE-fit navigation system that offered less functionality than a low cost PND and could not be upgraded.
  • Features that were difficult to use or unreliable.  These included Bluetooth handsfree systems that were awkward or complex to pair.

Although it is perhaps unfair to put 100% of the blame on the OEMs and their suppliers (Bluetooth stacks on phones are not always perfect!)  this informal survey shows that the industry still has a lot of work to do before it can claim to be meeting consumer demands and needs for multimedia. It needs to stop annoying them first.


November 16, 2009 12:11 rlanctot
Mercedes-Benz launches its Mbrace 3G-based telematics system today as standard equipment on all models except the GLK, the E-Coupe, the SLK and C-Class cars. It is an option on those models. The first six months of service are free and $280 a year after that. Keeping the concierge service costs $20 a month. The new system sets a new standard for smartphone integration, upgradability, voice recognition, dealer-customer integration, car-phone-PC integration, and customer support via three call centers one each for roadside assistance, concierge and emergency calls. Mercedes has been quoted as saying that it plans to add an application store and is also looking at enabling access to concierge and other services via the customer's phone, independent of the car. The bottom-line is the system is intended to be future-proof. The announcement marks the beginning of a transition by Mercedes away from current TeleAid telematics service provider ATX toward Hughes Telematics. The Hughes Telematics vision of service provision ultimately includes satellite and Wi-Fi connectivity, but the Mercedes system launches with 3G cellular connectivity. (Hughes' plan also calls for Website management of vehicle status and diagnostics. It is not clear how much of this capability, if any, will be available at launch.) The significant aspects of this industry changing announcement includes: -> VoiceBox natural language understanding voice engine. - Mercedes is the second OEM, after Lexus, to implement this technology which allows users to make naturally spoken requests for information and assistance either for controlling the car or for location information. The voice recognizer can speed access to information regarding weather or location data, for example, by eliminating the need to connect with an operator, but the operator is still available if the voice recognition fails. -> Three call centers for processing different types of calls. - Most telematics systems use a single call center for processing all types of calls. The Hughes system behind Mbrace has separate call centers for ACN or emergency calls, roadside assistance, and concierge services. -> Upgrade and updatability - Applications can be added wirelessly or at the dealer. -> Connectivity to customer phone - Vehicle doors can be locked or unlocked remotely via smartphone. The vehicle can be located in a crowded partking lot via smartphone app. If the vehicle is stolen, the user can be notified via text message. Additional smartphone functions will be available and an "app store" is in the works. Bluetooth connectivity is also provided for. -> Access to off-board information - Routes and POIs can be sent from Google to the car. (The Hughes vision ultimately calls for Website management of vehicle status and content ranging from audio and video files to service status and remote diagnostics. Mercedes will either be enabling these capabilities at launch or shortly thereafter.) -> Dealer connect - The system will connect the nearest Mercedes dealer if there is a problem. -> Automotic collision notification - Activated in the event of an airbag deployment or by a press of the SOS button, a Mercedes operator will get on the line, notify 911 and stay on the line until help arrives using vehicle coordinates. -> Real-time weather and traffic reports - Also provides real-time assistance in the event of a disaster. An operator will help locate shelter or alert family members. -> Concierge service - Access to a representative who will help make dinner reservations, order flowers, buy tickets to the opera, or book a flight. -> Access to services via phone - Mercedes may eventually allow access to services via phone independently of the car. Link to Wired News story: http://www.wired.com/autopia/2009/11/mercedes-mbrace-telematics/ Related Strategy Analytics reports: Telematics as a Downloadable App Arrives - http://www.strategyanalytics.com/default.aspx?mod=ReportAbstractViewer&a0=4973 App Stores Coming to the Automotive Market - http://www.strategyanalytics.com/default.aspx?mod=ReportAbstractViewer&a0=4802 27M Users of eCall and Infotainment Services by 2015 - http://www.strategyanalytics.com/default.aspx?mod=ReportAbstractViewer&a0=4428 Economic Climate Demands Sharper Connected Vehicle Business Models - http://www.strategyanalytics.com/default.aspx?mod=ReportAbstractViewer&a0=4425

October 21, 2009 15:10 mfitzgerald
Internet radio is a web based delivery of audio entertainment that is offered in two basic forms. In the first form, terrestrial and satellite radio stations stream live content or pre-recorded podcasts via the Internet. The second form is comprised by dedicated internet radio stations such as Pandora, Slacker and Last.FM which offer individualized, custom content based on listener input. The automotive digital radio market is ripe for applications that enable internet radio listening in the vehicle – though technical and business model hurdles remain. Safe vehicle-device interface solutions present product opportunities for automotive OEMs, not just for radio but also device based music file management. An automotive interfaced app for radio content does present opportunities, but there needs to be careful examination and identification of exactly how consumers use radio content, and how consumer radio listening habits are developing in the iPod/iPhone/Smartphone market across various market leading devices. Only then can an effective in-vehicle radio app be designed. Internet radio is one application within the in-vehicle infotainment mix that will have the app price plan managed by the consumers’ smartphone or internet enabled device and the accompanying dataplan - and not with the OEM car maker. The car maker could charge for the optional vehicle-device connection feature and avoid a subscription based pricing model. · Cellular data plan pricing will need to reflect the consumer’s willingness to pay – internet radio via cellular is not free. · It is important for app store owners to provide the right balance between free content as an enticement for consumers to buy from the stores, and paid-for content to realize revenue. A simplified app purchasing process, such as that perfected by the Apple App Store, is critical to the launch and overall success of an app store. Internet radio adoption in mainstream automotive markets is very unlikely before 2012. Though internet radio can be listened to in the car using a smartphone and Bluetooth A2DP vehicle-device connectivity, no purpose built OEM automotive internet radio solution with an integrated HMI exists. · May 2009 - Pandora announced that it is working with Ford to implement its internet radio technology with the Sync platform. · June 2009 – Pandora announced that it is working with automotive operating system and middleware supplier, QNX, to bring its internet radio solution to the automotive market. · Cellular network bandwidth limits are strained by streaming content such as internet radio. 4G solutions such as LTE and WiMax do not have adequate network coverage to be a viable solution for the automotive market. This blog summarizes the recent Strategy Analytics insight “Automotive Internet Radio far From Prime Time” that can be found at the following link: http://www.strategyanalytics.com/default.aspx?mod=ReportAbstractViewer&a0=5086