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.