HTML5 Is What’s Needed To Rapidly Develop IVI Automotive Apps

HTML5 logo

Car manufacturers know that in-car technology like navigation systems sells cars. The pace of the smartphone movement is impacting the painfully slow speed with which automotive manufacturers develop new cars and tech features. Consumers trade out their phones every 2 years, but a two year old car is still considered nearly “new” by Kelly Blue Book. So how can the auto OEMs satisfy consumers’ tastes for updated, red-hot in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) systems and add-on Apps?

Elektrobit speaks about HTML5, IVI, and HMI for automotive markets

Automotive software supplier Elektrobit thinks HTML5 is the answer. Coincidentally, so does RIM’s QNX division, along with Intel.  QNX supplies “CAR 2″ software to several auto OEMs, and Intel is behind Tizen, an HTML5-based competitor to Android.  While Samsung has endorsed Tizen for a handful of smartphones, Intel has publicly stated that Tizen is also targeting automotive IVI systems as I wrote about here.

At a webinar today (5 March 2013) hosted by Automotive World magazine, Elektrobit’s VP of Automotive Rainer Holve, argued that HTML5 is the perfect language in which to develop and deploy the fast-changing IVI HMI software. Most importantly, the car’s core “native” IVI functions should stay separate and subject to safety-critical coding practices.

By partitioning the IVI software in this manner, the two ecosystems are decoupled and can run on their own market- and OEM-driven schedules.  This means that native IVI–like GPS navigation, audio, HVAC, or OBDII diagnostic information like fuel consumption–can be developed slowly and methodically on the typical 2-5+ year automobile OEM cycle.

But the faster moving, consumer smartphone inspired IVI portion, and its fast moving add-on Apps ecosystem, can move very, very quickly. This allows consumers to refresh not only the Apps, but alows the OEMs to upgrade the entire HMI experience every few years without having to replace the whole car.

HTML5 decouples the slow automotive dev cycle, from the super-fast IVI App cycle.

HTML5 decouples the slow automotive dev cycle, from the super-fast IVI App cycle.

While the OEMs would love for an HMI refresh to force the consumer to replace the car every two years, it’s not going to happen. HMTL5 is a reasonable alternative and they know it. According to Elektrobit, Chrysler, GM, and Jaguar/Land Rover (JLR) have already started projects with HTML5.

HTML5 is an “evolution and cleanup of previous HTML standards,” said Elektrobit’s Holve, and is composed of HTML+CSS+JavaScript, along with new features for A/V, 2D graphics canvas, a 3D API, support for hardware acceleration, and much more.  HTML5 is based upon open standards and is supported by Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (WHATWG) and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Independently, W3C is working on a standardized API for JavaScript, which makes the HTML5 value proposition even sweeter.

Besides decoupling the HMI software from the “core” HMI functions, HTML5 would allow third-party Apps developers to swiftly write and deploy applications for IVI systems. Besides Internet connectivity itself, this is the one IVI feature that consumers demand: a choice of what Apps to add whenever they so choose. And since every automobile OEM will have to certify an App for safe in-vehicle use with their particular system, HTML5 allows App developers to create one core App that can be easily modified for multiple manufacturers and their myriad (and differentiated) vehicle models.  In short: HTML5 makes things easier for everyone, yet still allows a robust third-party market to flourish.

It’s important to note how this is both similar to, and differs from, the current IVI strategy of many OEMs that rely solely on the smartphone for Apps. Chevrolet, Peugeot, Renault, Toyota and v others tether the smartphone to the IVI system and “mirror” the phone’s Apps on the screen (see my blog on Mirroring). This allows the wildly robust iOS and Android App ecosystems into the car (and soon RIM/Blackberry and Windows 8 Phone), but it comes at a price.

2013 Chevrolet MyLink IVI uses MirrorLink with smartphone apps

2013 Chevrolet MyLink IVI uses MirrorLink with smartphone apps

In this scenario, the auto OEM must certify every App individually for use in their vehicle to assure safety or that critical car systems can’t be hacked or compromised. Or, the OEM can allow all Apps to run and hope for the best. One hopes a rogue App doesn’t access the CAN bus and apply the ABS or electric steering.

HTML5, on the other hand, gently forces developers to create Apps destined for IVI systems, but adds only a slight burden on them to make minor changes for each manufacturer’s certification. In this way they’re not barred from the car indiscriminately, but can develop a business of IVI apps separate from their smartphone iOS, Android and other Apps.

Intel's Renee James is betting on HTML5 in Tizen to kickstart transparent computing. (Image taken by author at IDF 2012.)

Intel’s Renee James is betting on HTML5 in Tizen to kickstart transparent computing. (Image taken by author at IDF 2012.)

Will HTML5 be successful? Is it the right answer for the rabid consumer’s taste for car tech, while still giving the auto manufacturer the safety and security they’re required to offer by law? I was skeptical about Tizen until Samsung’s announcements at Mobile World Congress 2013 last month. With Tizen pushing HTML5 for “openness”, it may just gain traction in automotive, too.

Watch this space. We’ll keep you updated.

“Mirror, Mira” on the Car’s IVI Screen: Two Different Standards?

You might be hearing about a new technology called MirrorLink that mimics your smartphone’s screen on the larger nav screen in your “connected car”. Or, you might be following the news on Miracast, a more open standard now baked into Android that offers Apple AirPlay-like features to stream smartphone content to devices like connected TVs.

You’d be forgiven if you think the two similarly-named standards are trying to accomplish the same thing. I didn’t understand it either, so I did some digging. Here’s what I found out.

The Smart, Connected Car
When I attended the Paris Auto Show last Fall specifically to investigate in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) trends for the Barr Group under contract to Intel, I got spun up “right quick” on all manner of IVI. From BMW’s iDrive to Chevrolet’s MyLink, the connected car is here. In fact, it’s one of the biggest trends spotted at last week’s 2013 CES in Las Vegas. MirrorLink is being designed into lots of new cars.

BMW's iDrive IVI uses a native system and doesn't rely on smartphone mirroring.

BMW’s iDrive IVI uses a native system and doesn’t rely on smartphone mirroring. (Courtesy of BMW.)

The biggest question faced by every auto manufacturer is this: in-car native system, or rely on the apps in one’s smartphone? Ford’s industry breakthrough MyFord Touch with SYNC by Microsoft is native and based upon Microsoft Auto Platform (now called Windows Embedded Automotive 7). Elsewhere, premium brands like BMW, Lexus and Cadillac have designed self-contained systems from the ground up. Some, like BMW, include in-car cellular modems. Others rely on the smartphone only for music and Internet access, but that’s it.

2013 Chevrolet MyLink IVI uses MirrorLink with smartphone apps

2013 Chevrolet MyLink IVI uses MirrorLink with smartphone apps. (Courtesy of Chevrolet.)

Still others, like Toyota and Chevrolet use a technology called MirrorLink to “mirror” the smartphone’s screen onto the car’s larger IVI. For all apps that make sense to be viewed on the IVI, the system will display them — usually identically to what the user sees on the smartphone (subject to safety and distraction caveats).

MirrorLink is now a trademarked standard owned by the Car Connectivity Consortium that’s designed specifically for cars and smartphones. That means the standard worries about driver distractions, apps that make sense for drivers (such as Google Maps) and those that don’t (such as a panoramic camera stitching application). Apps have to be qualified for use with MirrorLink.

As well, MirrorLink replaces the phone’s touch I/O with in-car I/O such as steering wheel controls, console joysticks, or the IVI head unit’s touchscreen or bezel buttons. Equally as important, audio input from microphones is routed from the car to the phone, while output uses the car’s speakers. The car’s antennae for radio and GPS will be given preference over the phone’s, improving the signal reception.  The protocols between smartphone and car also take input from the vehicle’s CANbus, including speed. This means that you can check your email when parked, but not while driving. A great resource for how it works and what the future holds is here.

MirrorLink started as a Nokia idea that was intended for smartphone-to-car connectivity. Now at version 1.1, it’s a client-server architecture where the IVI head unit is the USB host.  It uses industry-standard protocols such as Internet Protocol (IP), USB, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth (BT HFP for telephony, BT A2DP for media), RTP, and UPnP. Recent additions use The Trusted Computing Group concepts of device attestation protocols with SKSD/PKSD keys via authentication. The actual screen sharing uses the VNC protocol.

MirrorLink and Trusted Computing Group authentication process for trusted content.

MirrorLink and Trusted Computing Group authentication process for trusted content. (Courtesy of Car Connectivity Consortium.)

What MirrorLink doesn’t yet support is video streaming, since drivers watching video is a no-no is cars (tell that to the Japanese who I’ve seen with TVs mounted in their cars!).

Android and Miracast
Miracast, on the other hand, is all about streaming. It’s a Wi-Fi Alliance spec recently demoed at CES 2013 that’s designed to stream video and photos from smartphones, tablets, and future embedded devices. Like Apple’s AirPlay, it moves stuff from a small screen onto a big TV screen. It’s based upon Wi-Fi’s not-new-but-rarely-used Wi-Fi Direct standard (WiDi 3.5) that avoids routers to establish peer-to-peer connectivity.

The Wi-Fi Alliance Miracast standard streams video from small to large screens, as shown in this excerpt from a YouTube video. (Courtesy of YouTube and Wi-Fi Alliance.)

The Wi-Fi Alliance Miracast standard streams video from small to large screens, as shown in this excerpt from a YouTube video. (Courtesy of YouTube and Wi-Fi Alliance.)

Miracast supports 1080p HD video, 5.1 surround, and CPUs from nVidia, TI, Qualcomm, Marvell and others have announced plans to support it. Built into the spec is the ability to stream DRM and HDCP protected content using already established HDMI and DisplayPort style copy protection schemes. I guess they figure if you’ve got the rights to play it on your phone, might as well play it on your TV too.

Last Fall, Google updated Android Jelly Bean to 4.2 and included Miracast as part of the update, and I’m thrilled that my Nexus 7 tablet can now, in theory, stream content to my Samsung Smart TV. As Android proliferates throughout the embedded market, I can envision commercial applications where a user might do more than stream a video to another embedded device. Sharing the entire smartphone’s screen can be useful for PowerPoint presentations or demoing just about any Android app in existence. If it’s on the phone’s screen, it can get mirrored via Wi-Fi to another screen.

Will MirrorLink and Miracast Converge?
I doubt the two standards will merge. MirrorLink is exclusively aimed at IVI systems in cars, and the closely curated standard is intended to vet applications to assure safe operation in a vehicle. Miracast is similar in that it mirrors a smartphone’s screen, but there are no limitations on moving between screens, so Miracast is clearly the superset standard to a broader market.

Ironically, as the Car Connectivity Consortium looks to release MirrorLink Version 2.0, they’re examining Miracast as a way to provide an “alternative video link” for streaming H.264 1080p@30 FPS into the car cabin.

Why? For passenger entertainment. Think about minivans (shudder) and Suburbans loaded with kids.