Earlier this year, Google announced the formation of the Open Automotive Alliance (OAC)–a consortium of technology and auto manufacturers whose primary collaborative focus is R&D and customization of Android for vehicles. With Google, GM, Honda, Audi, Hyundai and Nvidia as inaugural members, the OAC represents the most concerted effort thus far to bring open standards and software interoperability to the car audio and infotainment realm. The partnership plans to build a stable, open platform to bridge infotainment, the Internet and apps—resulting in new and unprecedented functionality added to the automotive experience and bringing forth the vision of what the industry is now referring to as the connected car.
From Playback to Infotainment
Car stereos—“head units,” so to speak, have seen a remarkable evolution in the last decade: from playback, tuning and navigation-based units to Internet-enabled infotainment consoles with smartphone interoperability. The rise of mobile devices has arguably had the most profound effect on automotive entertainment, as being able to connect one’s smartphone or tablet to their car means that their vehicle is also plugged in to a variety of apps through said mobile device all at once. The connected car is the next step in this evolution, and the OAC represents the industry’s best foot forward so far in making open standards a reality.
Android, the most popular mobile device platform by developer adoption and user reach, is the premier operating system for automotive infotainment. While Apple has already made headway into this arena with its CarPlay initiatives—essentially iOS in the car—the OAC’s proposed platform and ecosystem is particularly captivating due to Android’s sheer breadth of existing community members (both developer and consumer-based). This popularity among mobile devices is not only important because of their innate capability to pair with the most devices already in use, but also because of the ramifications on future monetization and revenue opportunities.
Ultimately, this is the bottom line that drives innovation—if developers and software companies can’t turn a buck, they discontinue building better and more interesting apps. History has shown this with the previous forays and resulting failures of various entities that have tried to build and market automotive OS software systems: think MyTouch (a Ford and Microsoft Venture) and Linux-based QNX (owned by BlackBerry). The OAC represents a starkly different approach—participating car manufacturers do not have to build and maintain custom apps, as this function is relinquished to the developer community. As Android is the most popular mobile platform to date, the eocsystem is already starting off with wind at its back.
A Future World of Infotainment Apps
Apps revolutionized mobile devices, and they will revolutionize automotive infotainment. An Android-powered connected car will invariably mean an ecosystem-centric approach to automotive software development. Vendors and developers will have equal access to open platforms and tools, and subsequently create an ever-increasing array of interesting and useful apps. The ability to connect to consumers via infotainment in the one place most people spend most their time—on the road, in-transit within their vehicles–represents a powerful shift in automotive mobile entertainment-related media reach and advertising opportunities.