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Stop the Dashboard Insanity

by Roger Lanctot | Apr 22, 2016

Speaking as part of the digital track at this week's NAB confab, John Ellis proclaimed the demise of the dashboard radio in the coming world of automated vehicles.  The headline reporting his talk in Tom Taylor's newsletter was “Radio is on a path to extinction in the vehicle.”  There's no point in being subtle if you're John Ellis especially if you are addressing the deer in the proverbial digital headlights at NAB.

John makes an essential and legitimate point that the rise of car sharing and ride hailing services and increasingly automated driving machines will steadily nudge the content consuming public toward a BYOD approach to content reception.  This means radio needs to make the leap to mobile devices via solutions such as NextRadio - now adopted by every wireless carrier in the U.S. with the sole exception of Verizon. 

Quoth Ellis: “In an autonomous or shared car, there does not need to be a traditional head unit,” including the familiar AM/FM dial. “Occupants will bring in all their own content. Thus, no radio in the vehicle.”

As a solution, among other things, Ellis endorses adopting the standard called “SmartDeviceLink” from Ford and Livio and recently endorsed by Toyota.  The point of SmartDeviceLink is to enable digital content acquisition in any car (or anywhere?) with any device.

SmartDeviceLink is specifically for enabling access to smartphone-based apps and services via a smartphone connection in a car.  The current landscape of smartphone connectivity solutions encompasses everything from Alphabet's Android Auto and Apple's CarPlay to MirrorLink, IviLink, WebLink, PhoneLink, MyLink, IntelliLink, HondaLink and, yeah, the list goes on.

The beauty of SmartDeviceLink is that it has the overt support of both Ford and Toyota, but behind the scenes momentum is building for much wider support. Collaboration has already begun between OEMs - an almost-unheard of phenomenon. 

The allure of SmartDeviceLink?  A massive roster of already enabled applications and services, compatibility with Apple iOS and Alphabet's Android and, soon, OEM independence.

But the real core of the SmartDeviceLink solution is differentiation.  Car makers are quickly - and finally - learning that undifferentiated solutions conceived by non-automotive suppliers - Apple, Alphabet, Baidu (CarLife) - are nothing more than a dead end.

If you're Mercedes-Benz, why would you want a dashboard experience that looked like Volkswagen's?  It makes no sense.  It makes even less sense when car makers take into account the low priority ascribed to the automotive industry by the Apple's, Alphabet's and Baidu's of the world.

The tipping point may well be J.D. Power's new report on smartphone mirroring solutions.  The press release states:

"Findings from the J.D. Power 2015 U.S. Tech Choice StudySM demonstrated below average preference in Apple CarPlay (92) and Android Auto (90), where 100 is average, even with smartphone ownership taken into account. Compare this to the top rated technology from 2015, Blind Spot Detection and Prevention at a preference rating of 225, to see that there is an uphill battle to communicate the benefits that Smartphone Mirroring provides to consumers."

Strategy Analytics research has consistently identified safety as a much higher priority than infotainment.  But what could be worse than UNDIFFERENTIATED infotainment?  That is a negative, not a plus.

SmartDeviceLink, in contrast, allows for connecting Apple and Android-based devices but its key virtue is that it provides a framework within which car companies can create differentiated and brand-specific user experiences.  And those experiences can be infused with vehicle sensor data and the related contextual information - something most car makers have withheld from Apple, Alphabet and Baidu.

Something of a footnote in this debate is the impending demise of MirrorLink.  Volvo, GM and Daimler have all turned away from the interoperability challenges, the limited roster of compatible phones and the inability of MirrorLink to work with Apple phones.  MirrorLink won't go away, but it will be increasingly difficult to find and even harder for car dealers to explain and sell.

SmartDeviceLink is rapidly emerging as the go-to smartphone integration platform.  Competing smartphone integrators such as Abalta and Airbiquity have read the writing on the wall and enabled their own SmartDeviceLink compatible solutions.  It's definitely time to forget the bollocks.

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