Analysts anticipate that Smartphone-integration in infotainment systems will grow substantially over the next five years. Consumers expect that this integration will enable a similar experience in the car as they have on their phones, challenging OEMs with finding a solution that accommodates consumers’ preferences, and which can be constantly improved and updated. 

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Issue: May 2014


Smartphone-agnostic integration comes of age



by Esther Francis

Analysts anticipate that Smartphone-integration in infotainment systems will grow substantially over the next five years. Consumers expect that this integration will enable a similar experience in the car as they have on their phones, challenging OEMs with finding a solution that accommodates consumers’ preferences, and which can be constantly improved and updated. 

Car manufacturers have tried to meet this demand with native car apps or by incorporating a web browser directly in the car infotainment system. These solutions have proven costly for app developers to deploy across multiple proprietary infotainment systems, and cannot easily accommodate the latest versions or newer apps. In response to this challenge California-based Abalta Technologies has announced that its WEBLINK software, which allows any car manufacturer to sync in-vehicle-infotainment or IVI systems with any Smartphone, now supports four major Smartphone devices: Apple, Android, BlackBerry and Windows phone. By integrating the WEBLINK client software, car manufacturers can cost-effectively provide customers with an up-to-date and customized in-vehicle app experience in a safe and seamless way, according to the company. Launched by Abalta in March 2013, WEBLINK enables Smartphones to operate as the primary in-vehicle computing device in connected cars. 

“WEBLINK’s ability to run on all major Smartphone operating systems gives carmakers the ability to offer a flexible and custom app experience to their customers,” said Michael O’Shea, president and CEO of Abalta Technologies. “With Smartphones from many different manufacturers continuing to hit the market, we feel it’s important that automakers aren’t limited to proprietary devices when bringing them into car infotainment systems.” Abalta has partnered with Green Hills Software, the largest independent vendor of safety and security certified embedded software solutions, to integrate WEBLINK into Green Hills’ scalable in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) platform. 

“While not the only solution, INTEGRITY and its proven approach for secure, reliable IVI solutions has proven itself as an ideal platform to host Abalta’s WEBLINK connect car technology,” said O’Shea. “With this combination, automotive OEMs, Tier 1s and automotive aftermarket providers can now deliver a safe and secure in-car app experience across the broadest range of IVI platforms and markets.” “Our automotive customers are demanding Smartphone-agnostic car connectivity solutions in their next generation IVI platforms, and WEBLINK offers the most flexible approach of any brought-in Smartphone solution today,” said Dan Mender, VP Business Development at Green Hills Software. “

Supporting the broadest range of mobile operating systems is paramount for in-vehicle Smartphone integration. WEBLINK is clearly the leader in this domain. Furthermore, the international language support provided by WEBLINK enables the combination to scale across multi-national car markets.” WEBLINK’s ability to run on all major Smartphone operating systems also enables application developers to design drivercentric apps. Existing HTML5 apps can be readily deployed to the in-vehicle environment and can be easily customized for OEM brands and target demographic groups, geographical region or user preference. Examples of the first kinds of apps available with WEBLINK include WebNav - a navigation app from TeleCommunication Systems, Slacker) - the world’s most complete music service, offering free access to millions of songs and hundreds of expert-programmed stations; Wcities - an international city event guide and Parkopedia - a parking map for drivers to easily find parking around their destination. 

Automotive Industries (AI) asked O’Shea what will be the impact of WEBLINK supporting the four major Smartphone devices? 

O’Shea: With so many Smartphones on the market, all from different manufacturers, it seems unsound for automakers to limit themselves to a subset of available devices when integrating Smartphone brought-in infotainment systems into their cars. Consumers are going to expect support for whatever phone they are carrying. 

AI: How will it impact automotive manufacturers? 

O’Shea: Consumers are seeking a similar experience in their car as they experience everyday with their Smartphones. By integrating WEBLINK automotive manufacturers can offer their customers access to their Smartphones in the car in a safe and seamless way, as well as keep the infotainment technology up to date. Since WEBLINK leverages the user’s phone as the primary in-vehicle computing device, there’s no need for costly updates because Smartphones are constantly being improved year after year. 

AI: What do you think the impact will be of having WEBLINK on the INTEGRITY platform? 

O’Shea: OEMs, Tier 1s and automotive aftermarket providers can now deliver a safe and secure in-car app experience across the broadest range of IVI platforms and markets, allowing any car manufacturer to sync IVI systems with any Smartphone. INTEGRITY is the latest platform to support WEBLINK. 

AI: Tell us a little about the challenges of the development process.
 
O’Shea: WEBLINK makes it very easy for a developer. Web apps can run via WEBLINK without any modification or specific integration. For web app developers, the primary effort is creating a version of the app for styled for use in-vehicle. This generally means creating a landscape view, using larger buttons and conforming to guidelines for safe use in the car. For native app developers, there is a very simple process for integrating an app with WEBLINK. A full SDK is provided with detailed instructions and tools for testing and debugging. 

AI: What are some of the benefits of such software to players in the automotive sector?
 
O’Shea: One of the most immediate and obvious benefits will be for the automotive manufacturers, who can cost-effectively provide customers with an up-to-date and customized in-vehicle app experience in a safe and seamless way. This also benefits application developers, who can leverage WEBLINK to easily integrate their HTML5 apps into the car, increasing audience and revenue opportunities. Since HTML is compatible across platforms, developers can create one app with a minimal amount of effort required for maintaining and improving, rather than creating separate apps for all of the major automakers like Ford and GM, not the mention creating apps for all the Smartphone operating systems like Android, iOS, Windows, etc. 

AI: How do you see the future of in-car infotainment evolving? 

O’Shea: We see the automotive companies focusing more on the needs of developers and drivers. For developers, there will be a movement away from proprietary systems and towards technologies that developers are already working with. We expect to see more HTML5, Android and phone-based approaches in the future. Drivers will benefit from a richer set of apps and services. More emphasis will be placed on driver centric apps rather than just simply emulating the Smartphone experience in the car. Expect greater integration with the car’s systems, on-board and well as off-board services provided by the automotive manufacturer, dealers and other participants  



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