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Embedded LTE Wi-Fi and Onboard Apps Incorporated by Auto Makers in New Car Infotainment Systems, Business and Industry Trends Analysis

Car and truck drivers are captive audiences every day for the “fourth screen,” that is, devices viewed in vehicles.  The fourth screen (following the television, the personal computer and the cellphone as the first three screens) may be any portable device such as a tablet or portable media player.  At the same time, automakers are increasingly focused on enhancing the screens embedded into a vehicle’s dashboard.
Advanced information systems in automobiles, such as the Ford Sync system, utilize Wi-Fi to receive their initial software customization at the factory.  For example, Wi-Fi may be used at the plant to load one type of emergency response package for cars intended for sale in the U.S., and another for cars that will be sold in other nations.  Now, Tesla and other makers use Wi-Fi to install software updates to their vehicles.  As a next step, several car makers, including Ford, GM, Chrysler and Volkswagen are turning their vehicles into Wi-Fi hotspots, so that passengers can use their laptops, tablet computers and other devices on the road.
As advanced wireless broadband systems, such as LTE, are ultrafast, such systems can offer passengers access to conduct business, watch videos, listen to music of their choice and send emails.  The GENIVI Alliance ( has been formed by several auto industry leaders in order to create an open standard for “In-Vehicle Infotainment” or IVI.  Members include BMW, Volvo, Honda, Nissan and PSA Groupe.
One way to enable onboard internet hotspots is to create a system whereby an owner’s smartphone becomes a single internet connection for all passengers and all of their devices.  However, auto makers are now embedding independent wireless receivers into their cars—systems that require their own wireless service contracts.  GM is offering embedded 4G broadband provided by AT&T for onboard Wi-Fi.  (GM’s popular OnStar telematics system has long featured built-in wireless communications for directions and emergency phone calls.)
Meanwhile, car makers are rushing to develop sophisticated smartphone apps and onboard apps that enable owners to customize and communicate with their cars.  Ford’s AppLink service is available on most Ford models.  Ford’s SYNC already offers real-time traffic information, turn-by-turn directions and personalized sports and weather reports, in addition to hands-free operation of cellphones and sound systems.
Under new developments in AppLink, car owners are able to download entertainment of their choice to SYNC for listening while they drive.  The wildly popular Pandora music service was among the first offerings.  But this is just the beginning of the services apps will bring to onboard SYNC infotainment systems.  Owners are able to download travel and time management apps, such as systems that will alert them to changes in the status of flights while in route to the airport.  Voice-activated apps even enable drivers to update their social media such as Facebook or Twitter.
Meanwhile, Ford wants apps to enable owners to better manage their cars remotely.  Such apps include systems to diagnose car performance and maintenance.  SYNC Destination enables owners to enter a destination into a smartphone at their convenience, and then beam it to the car for turn-by-turn guidance later.  A car maker’s ability to offer the maximum synchronization with a consumer’s smartphone in a safe and entertaining manner is rapidly becoming one of the most hotly contested fields in the automobile market.
An advanced system is installed in the BMW 7-series sedan which includes the ability for the car to park itself when a driver exits the vehicle and presses a button on a remote control.  The 7-series also has a color heads-up display that projects information on the windshield with 75% more display area than previous models, and the infotainment center offers its own app store.  In addition, the vehicle has gesture control, allowing drivers to accept or reject phone calls and adjust sound system volume by waving their hands.
Apple has agreements with most auto manufacturers including Audi, BMW, GM, Honda, Porsche and Toyota to install its Siri voice command service in new vehicles.  The service utilizes “eyes free” buttons that engage Siri so that the driver can request information from the internet on everything from weather to navigation to nearby restaurant reviews.  Apple also offers CarPlay, an on-board version of a phone app.
The use of digital assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa is expanding into vehicles.  BMW’s “Connected” services enable Alexa users to lock car doors or check tire pressures remotely.  Ford is also integrating Alexa into its Fusion and Escape models.  While driving, users can receive alerts regarding shopping lists and nearby stores that offer the necessary items.  Mercedes-Benz offers a similar feature called In Car Office, which integrates Microsoft Exchange calendars into vehicles.
Google offers telematic software including the Android Auto phone app.  This is not to be confused with Google’s Android Automotive, which is an operating system that controls a vehicle’s onboard entertainment system, in addition to managing or reporting data such as speed, tire pressure, battery status and more.  Volkswagen has developed its own operating system that can run apps from the cloud, as has BMW.
There is some concern that connectivity opens the door for hackers who might take control of crucial systems such as braking, steering or engine startup and shutdown.  Hackers also might be able to unlock doors and drive off using cellular, Bluetooth or other wireless connections.  Manufacturers are working on ways to secure automotive computer systems.  Toyota, for example, programs its onboard computers to recognize outside commands and reject them.

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