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

March 29, 2010 17:03 rlanctot
I have been using TomTom’s XXL 540S World Traveler for the past two months in multiple locations in the U.S. as well as in the U.K., Germany and France and I can safely say this is a dangerous device. It is dangerous because it effectively leverages historic speed profile data to deliver accurate routing and travel time without live traffic data. The XXL 540S is dangerous because the effectiveness of its routing, without accessing live traffic data of any kind, turns the growing traffic data industry on its head. The historic speed profile data calculates routes based on historic speed measurements for every time of day and for every road segment, from large highways to small local roads, and includes TomTom’s IQ Routes technology. In comparison to on-board systems with enhanced traffic data, the routing and time of travel on the TomTom was comparable. I am sure I am not the only user of navigation devices and technologies who has been frustrated with the traffic information experience. I have had both positive and negative outcomes and, in spite of the negatives, I am still a believer in the power and necessity of traffic information. I recently steered clear of purchasing an opening price point PND for the very reason that it lacked traffic information. But sometimes, one is willing to accept sacrifices to achieve a greater good. In this case, that greater good is a single device for automotive navigation in North America and Europe. The sacrifice of traffic data is a small price to pay especially considering what the cost of adding traffic information for both geographies would likely represent in added subscription fees covering multiple suppliers. (Hint: The first traffic supplier with a universal solution will gain a huge advantage.) For anyone seeking a single device for vehicle navigation in North America and Europe with built-in traffic camera data and 7M POIs, the XXL 540S is ideal. (The device was even able to locate a runner’s specialty store buried in a mall in Sindelfingen, Germany, as well as functioning in a pedestrian mode trying to locate the next nearest towns in the French countryside outside Geneva.) On the downside, a shortcoming of the device is its rigid programming. It is not possible to use it as one would Google maps to pick a starting point and destination unrelated to a current location, for example. A more flexible solution will be necessary as user expectations change. If PNDs like the XXL 540S cannot offer functional equivalence to other navigation solutions, consumers will be disappointed. Switching between maps is also less than intuitive. But I can understand TomTom’s disinclination to add yet another layer to its busy user interface. When entering a destination for a new geography, the user eventually has the option to change the map. The device stores prior routes separately for each different map, which is a nice touch. In addition, the integration of user evaluations so widely available in competing connected solutions certainly pose a threat to disconnected PNDs like the TomTom device. But as a single function device, the XXL 540S delivers in spite of the missing traffic info and connectivity.. For the XXL 540S World Traveler the combination of on-board data and the access to software updates perfectly substitutes for a more robust offering of regionalized live traffic information. More importantly, the device points the way toward future product development at TomTom and other PND makers. The pocketable device (yes, even with a five-inch display) is convenient enough for world travel and amazingly, the user will make no sacrifices in POI content or even map updates – additional POIs can be added via the Home application. The device connects to the TomTom Home software application for map updates and other enhancements. Flash has clearly displaced the HDD as the preferred storage medium for PNDs and the XXL 540S has 4GB of storage. At $299.99 retail (a little pricy) the device also includes TomTom’s “Help Me!” button and lane guidance. The TomTom even showed a roundabout where the on-board system against which it was being compared only showed a standard intersection. Of course, with the map update capability, the TomTom should always have superior map data. Even as PND makers experiment with larger screens, as in the case of the XXL 540S, the devices themselves will get smaller and prices will continue to fall. Connectivity and more creative deployment of location-aware applications will be critical to the future success of the segment. Additional Insights: Solid Q4 for PNDs, but ‘Free’ Navigation is Shaking Up Monetization (AMCS) – Canali - A Role for PNDs…If They Get Connected - Blight - Automotive and Portable Navigation Market Forecast 2008-2016 (AMCS) - Blight

March 23, 2010 19:03 rlanctot
When is Internet radio not Internet radio? When it’s a music service or programming guide. That’s one of many problems with Internet radio, nobody seems to understand what it is, which means marketing messages are confused and confusing. But the market leaders are finding success in spite of themselves with music service Pandora boasting a subscriber base of 45M; competing service provider Slacker claiming 15M; and programming guide supplier RadioTime reporting 40M listening sessions/month and rising. Pandora has captured the imagination of car makers and the creators of automotive infotainment systems. Both Ford and QNX have announced plans to bring Pandora to in-vehicle solutions. Nearly everyone in the automotive industry considers Pandora to be so-called Internet radio. Even Pandora calls itself Internet radio, but, in fact, it is a music service, not unlike Napster and Rhapsody or even iTunes. Note that no one would normally refer to Napster, Rhapsody or iTunes as Internet radio services – yet they perform many of the same functions of Pandora. The point is important to understand because there is a battle for the ears of listeners “trapped” in their cars. Today, these ears have more choices than ever before including traditional AM and FM, satellite radio, digital radio, recorded content (disc-based and digital) and streaming content from music services, podcasts, and, yes, Internet radio. And Internet radio is presenting an emerging challenge to music service providers. With vehicle connectivity being enabled via broadband and narrowband technology embedded or carried-in, consumers have access to virtually the entire conceivable spectrum of live and recorded content. The newest arrival, following Pandora’s debut, is RadioTime, an Internet radio programming guide. RadioTime arrives on the scene just as engineers and programmers are facing the monumental challenge to enable access to these services and their content. The objective is to organize and manage that content in an intuitive manner that can be easily and attractively communicated to consumers. The challenges are formidable. Slacker, a music service that competes with Pandora, claims millions of songs for a library 5x the size of Pandora’s and based on direct relationships with the “labels” responsible for the music. Slacker’s content is packaged in 120 genre stations and 10,000 artist stations. Both Slacker and Pandora have their own strategies for packaging their music offerings, with Pandora’s based on the increasingly ubiquitous thumbs up/down approach in contrast to Slacker's stations. And neither of these companies possess the licenses necessary to operate outside the United States and Canada - even Pandora is not available in Canada. This is where RadioTime comes in. RadioTime, the Internet radio programming guide selected by BMW for its Mini integration, provides access to 65K Internet radio stations from around the world. And the access to those stations is global, which helps to explain BMW/Mini’s choice. For in-vehicle delivery of these new music experiences the first steps are apparent in the latest iterations of Microsoft Auto which provide for song look up by voice regardless of source. QNX has also shown Internet radio integrations though generally focusing on Pandora – a lead that has been followed by Tier One suppliers (and QNX customers) such as Visteon, Continental and Denso, all showing their Pandora solutions at recent trade events. The importance of BMW/Mini’s RadioTime announcement revolves around the fact that RadioTime is a programming guide for Internet radio and is NOT a music service. RadioTime offers one of the first radio programming guides, focused as it is on Internet radio, yet it also includes non-Internet radio sources such as traditional FM and digital radio. RadioTime’s competitors include Reciva and vTuner, which have comparable offerings on a much smaller scale and lack regular FM or digital broadcast content. The only element missing from the RadioTime proposition is the personalization capability that distinguishes Pandora, Stitcher and others (ie. the thumbs up/down aspect). But RadioTime does uniquely offer localized content with local stations broadcasting audio and text in the local language. It is still early days in the Internet radio and music service business as far as automotive and mobile app implementations are concerned but there are already dozens of mobile applications available for nearly every mobile platform. For music services the business model revolves around subscriptions, paid downloads and advertising. The business models range from free (often with advertising) to paid (without advertising) and include sales of music and other access privileges such as caching or "skipping" songs. The major music services are Slacker, Pandora, Rhapsody, Spotify, iTunes and Napster. The major programming guides are RadioTimes, Reciva, vTuner and Radio Locator. The available Internet radio stations include: iHeartradio, RadioParadise and a host of individual and bundled stations ultimately encompassing the entire 65K stations available worldwide. Mobile radio apps include Flycast, Stitcher, Radiolicious, and WunderRadio amidst a long and growing list. Most listeners enjoy these services over their personal computers or televisions but a growing population are accessing content via mobile devices and, soon, will be plugging into Internet music sources via embedded systems. For now, though, car makers are preferring to maintain an arms-length relationship with these services by enabling access via a customer’s own phone and data plan. To achieve this requires either streaming Bluetooth connectivity via A2DP access or a hardwired connection. Slacker stands out in this crowd as offering a third path of storing content for later play instead of streaming, not unlike some of the portable satellite radio devices currently available. Slacker can be streamed or cached, giving it a unique advantage in the market. Despite this unique position, though, Slacker has yet to garner any visible design wins in the automotive market, though it is available on most popular smartphones. Ultimately, the market will favor low-cost Internet radio and music service solutions. This means that the battle today is between content aggregators such as RadioTime, Flycast, Stitcher, vTuner and Reciva and their ability to compete or co-exist with music service providers. Whatever the outcome, drivers with smartphone applications stand to benefit handsomely. For additional insight see: CES 2010: The Arrival of Converged Automotive Multimedia Products - John Canali - Automotive Bluetooth: Profile Strategy Key to Infotainment Success - Mark Fitzgerald - Internet Radio: Ready for Prime Time - Mark Fitzgerald -

March 16, 2010 19:03 rlanctot

Nokia, BMW and Daimler highlighted mobile phone integration in their Geneva Motor Show announcements this month. But each company took a different path with its own merits and shortcomings. The most flexible solution was shown by Daimler, but the BMW and Nokia solutions will influence future integration decisions.


The solutions – two iPhone-based and one Nokia specific - reflect the three fundamental paths to integration. Nokia’s terminal mode emphasizes leveraging the vehicle human machine interface via a bi-directional data exchange that transfers the device display into the vehicle head unit; hands control of the device over to the vehicle HMI; and makes use of vehicle CAN data for contextual feedback to the driver.


The BMW Mini iPhone integration puts iPhone applications, most notably Internet radio from RadioTimes, behind a large-screen embedded interface. Availability of this new connected solution is unclear, although the implication is that additional functions will ultimately be enabled and the vehicle HMI – in particular, a multidirectional, finger-sized toggle – will allow the driver to interact with phone-based applications without touching the phone.


The Daimler solution, offered for its Smart cars, is the closest to market – due this summer with a $400 price tag – and represents the most elaborate offering. It is also a third path to integration, providing a dash mounted iPhone holder with a suite of automotive applications – the first such suite developed by an OEM. Daimler has even gone so far as to customize the on-device interface with larger fonts and buttons.


Among the big differences between the Daimler integration solution and the competing offerings is that the driver mainly makes use of the on-device interface. Included in the application suite in the Smart iPhone application are hands-free calling, access to the on-device music library and Internet radio, Bing Internet search, a car finder function, and navigation with a “smart touch” feature. The cradle acts as a control unit, charger and microphone with stereo integration for muting during calls.


An additional enhancement due later in the year is a Smart drive kit camera, for fitting on the windscreen. The device will be able to transmit pictures of the area in front of the car to the smart drive kit via Wi-Fi and will thereby provide traffic sign recognition functionality including speed limits – a feature offered on a handful of portable navigation devices.


The smart drive app for the iPhone can be downloaded from the App Store at a one-off price of €9.99 for the basic version. The navigation upgrade with up-to-date maps costs €49.99 per year. Daimler says its researchers are currently putting the final touches to the smart drive kit camera functions.


The Daimler solution for its Smart car line-up is particularly appropriate since Smart cars in Europe are quite often sold without a head unit. In this case, the customer’s iPhone indeed becomes the vehicle’s on-board car radio, hands-free phone, navigation and driver assist system.


In contrast, the BMW Mini offering requires an embedded solution which will limit its scalability and upgradability, although the display real estate is substantial and the use of the vehicle’s HMI elements is preferable. The Daimler unit requires the driver to use the iPhone screen as the main interface. All three of these solutions will benefit from voice interfaces.


Like the BMW solution, Nokia’s Terminal Mode is intended to hand off HMI responsibility for smartphone functionality to the car. While the solution is promising, and Nokia is working with partners including Alpine, Magneti Marelli and Harman Becker, it is proprietary. As a proprietary solution, Nokia will face challenges to achieve market adoption despite working closely with the Consumer Electronics for Automotive (CE4A) coalition of German car makers.


Concept vehicles using the Nokia technology were shown at Geneva by Fiat and Valmet Automotive. In fact, the solution shown by Fiat, mounting a Nokia phone on a dash board as a navigation device connected to the Blue&Me system was significant given Fiat’s existing relationship with TomTom for a Blue&Me integrated PND.


Nokia’s terminal mode is promising, especially given its anticipated ability to obtain CANbus data for integration with different applications, but as a proprietary solution it is likely to be geographically challenged (ie. Eurocentric). A good example of an equally elegant solution with limited distribution is Novero’s proprietary Bluetooth interface developed for Ford. This solution is at risk of being marginalized once Ford finally decides to bring Sync to Europe.


Nokia has the right idea in pushing hard at smartphone integration, but the company would do well to enable standards-based technologies already deployed rather than seeking proprietary solutions. Even in the best of scenarios, the deployment of a proprietary Bluetooth profile on handsets and in cars is a years-long proposition. Daimler’s solution arrives in a matter of months with upgrades and enhancements to come before the end of the year, no doubt. Mini won’t be far behind.

February 10, 2010 00:02 rlanctot

While car makers around the world are developing traditional embedded telematics systems for deployment worldwide, a secondary market in embedded (ie. line fit) and aftermarket modules intended to meet local mandates for eCall, vehicle tracking and road charging are proliferating. Mandates in such diverse locations as The Netherlands and Brazil are feeding this frenzy and new suppliers with new solutions are emerging on the scene on a weekly basis.


The six most prominent applications driving demand and interest - among suppliers, car makers and service providers – are pay-as-you-drive insurance (PAYD), the European eCall mandate, the Brazilian stolen vehicle recovery mandate, eHorizon map-as-a-sensor offerings, road charging (The Netherlands, France, Germany) and buy-here-pay-here solutions. Each one of these opportunities represents millions of devices to be sold and installed although, interestingly, the service opportunities are more limited with only PAYD, SVR and buy-here-pay-here promising any service revenue. Road charging in The Netherlands alone represents an 8M unit build with 300K-500K units/annually going forward.


PAYD is the highest profile opportunity in the industry today with Octo-Telematics leading the way in Europe with more than 1M installed devices in use. Smaller players are multiplying throughout the continent, though, as insurers recognize the opportunity to take customers from competitors, reward their own “best” customers, and gather better data for determining risk. Progressive is the market leader in the U.S., but with competition fierce in the automotive insurance industry, PAYD will be embraced nationwide. Not coincidentally, Octo-Telematics has partnered with Directed Electronics to tackle the U.S. market.


After PAYD, the Brazilian mandate for stolen vehicle tracking and vehicle immobilization has attracted as much attention as PAYD with several companies claiming design-in wins. There were some hiccoughs on the way to achieving a nationwide mandate, but the latest indications are that 100% of vehicles produced in Brazil will be obliged to be fitted with tracking devices enabled for vehicle immobilization. The compromise that allows the mandate to move forward leaves the service provisioning to the customer’s discretion.


Road charging, an application already widely deployed in the fleet industry, is coming to passenger cars to reduce emissions, traffic, and accident rates. The volumes for road charging will be significant and suppliers are circling.


The eHorizon solutions, in module form, offered by Navteq/Magneti Marelli/ST Microelectronics and lately demonstrated by Intermap/Visteon offer to integrate map and road elevation data into advanced driver assistance applications. The volumes here will grow, but the rate will be slow as consumers gradually come to embrace emerging safety systems.


Buy-here-pay-here modules used by both new and used car resellers to track and immobilize customers that miss payments is the most well-established of all the module-related opportunities. Players in the industry have recently coalesced around the Payment Assurance Technology Association ( to raise the profile of this vital application as a legitimate segment worthy of attention and respect. No doubt demand has never been higher given current economic decisions.


Supplier approaches to module mania range from application specific solutions to all-purpose devices not only suitable to multiple uses but remotely configurable and integrated with Website access. ABS T&T, which has partnered with Continental, distributes a multipurpose module for tracking and telematics applications ranging from shipment tracking to stolen vehicle recovery and telematics.


NXP offers its ATOP module which it describes as the world’s first single component on board unit (OBU) capable of supporting ITS applications, stolen vehicle tracking, PAYD applications, last mile tracking (automotive black box) as well as enabling ADAS systems. The device can be configured with a wide range of connectivity including GSM, CAN, near field communication (NFC, USB, and GPS and also enables downloadable applications.


Whether purpose-built or all-purpose, module makers are proliferating spurred on by government mandates as well as new and existing commercial opportunities from both the consumer telematics and fleet market segments. This is precisely the right stimulus package for an automotive industry on the mend.

January 22, 2010 22:01 rlanctot

No, not really. But it seems as if that headline could be written any day now. Apple’s influence inside the car has become as pervasive as Google’s influence outside it. Apple’s iPods and iPhones have fundamentally altered the automotive audio experience and are speeding the demise of the in-car CD player.


The electronics industry may be abuzz regarding the impending arrival of the Apple “iSlate” tablet computer, but auto makers and their suppliers are wrestling every day with the impact of hundreds of millions of iPods and millions of iPhones. Even telecommunications companies have felt Apple’s touch, causing them to re-evaluate flat rate data plans as iPhone users tune in to Internet radio and streaming video applications en masse.


But Apple’s influence began 6-7 years ago. Apple’s iPods arrived on the market around the same time aftermarket companies were toying with the idea of removable and dockable storage drives in cars. Companies from Seagate to Kenwood, Phatnoise and Rosen Entertainment, among others, dabbled in this area to the extent of bringing products into the marketplace only to discover that the iPod had become the de facto portable storage device for in-vehicle use.


A similar reality is unfolding today as car makers seek to bring Internet access into the car via embedded modules, while iPhone users are bringing Internet applications to the car via their iPhones. Today, iPhone users can access Internet radio, podcasts, navigation and location-related applications all from their smartphones. In fact, many car makers provide proprietary Apple connectors with their new cars. (The salesman who sold me my car last year provided these connectors - which are now jammed into my console for storage - even though I use a Blackberry.)


We have Apple to thank/blame for the proliferation of AUX IN and USB connectors in cars and, soon, we may have Apple to thank/blame for the demise of the automotive CD drive. For now, CDs persist out of convenience, low cost and wide consumer acceptance. But retail sales are in freefall even as downloads continue to gain, particularly, of course, for iTunes. When it comes to low cost, a properly connected iPhone delivers as much value as the average multifunction head unit – and more.


The latest iPhone vehicle connectivity developments revolve around transferring control of the device to the in-vehicle HMI. Most Tier Ones have mastered this task enabling steering wheel and other controls to manage iPhone functions. The next step in the works is to transfer the images displayed on the iPhone screen to the center stack display, if there is one. But the convergence of Apple devices and automobiles will continue especially as the installed base of devices continues to grow.


That installed base fuels a massive aftermarket. Apple’s presence in the mobile electronics industry was never more obvious than at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this month where dozens of companies showed devices for connecting or mounting Apple products in cars. The Apple automotive aftermarket alone is probably bigger than the rest of the automotive aftermarket combined - roughly speaking.


Rest assured that OEMs and their suppliers are laboring furiously to get out in front of Apple’s next move that may influence the car buying public. Maybe the iSlate will alter the automotive aftermarket in some fundamental way. Is an Apple head unit next? Not likely. Not now, after Apple has forever altered the in-car audio experience. For the foreseeable future, every head unit maker will have to make a pit stop in Cupertino before bringing their next product to market.


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: Related Strategy Analytics reports: Telematics as a Downloadable App Arrives - App Stores Coming to the Automotive Market - 27M Users of eCall and Infotainment Services by 2015 - Economic Climate Demands Sharper Connected Vehicle Business Models -

October 29, 2009 17:10 mfitzgerald

Ford has announced that it plans to open its SYNC platform to third party app developers. Though no timeline is given for implementation, Ford has indicated that it will announce future SYNC features during the CES show in January 2010.

Though the SYNC system can be upgraded with new features or apps, only features developed by Ford are available for downloading on the syncmyride website.

Prasad Venkatesh, Vehicle Design & Infotainment at Ford is quoted in the article: "The way we're developing the toolkit, you could sit in the comfort of your home and plan a roadtrip," he says. Using a smartphone or computer, you'd then add points of interest or other plans. "At the click of a button, the cloud would make all that available to you in the car, and it would broadcast it to your social networking groups."

The quandary OEMs face is their inability to control the downloadable application marketplace. However, there is an opportunity for OEMs to leverage that the app space by testing and approving applications before release and in the case of Ford, working with partners to develop specific applications specifically for their vehicles.

An in-depth look at downloadable telematics apps can be found in the following Strategy Analytics report: Telematics as a Downloadable App. Arrives

Smartphone apps are popular downloads but are not necessarily a source of revenue. This has implications for automotive telematics app opportunities.

Prasad stated that “Ford doesn't know whether they will pursue an app store model ala Apple, and no firm plans have been made about monetization. The potential is there, however; he says he is encouraging the students at UM to pursue their apps with an entrepreneurial mindset.”

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. According to Strategy Analytics’ Wireless Media Labs smartphone survey research, over two-thirds of iPhone and over half of BlackBerry respondents in the US have installed all or the majority of the applications on their phone for free.