While the in-vehicle entertainment systems today are loaded with entertainment, convenience and safety options, they still lag behind their more eminent counterpart – the smartphone. The average vehicle owner in today’s world expects the same level of user-experience from its in-car entertainment system as the smartphone. One solution to meet the expectations of car owners is to mirror their smart-phones on the car head-unit – but it is riddled with challenges pertaining to safety, driver distraction, in-convenience as well as legal regulations. To address these challenges, automakers are embracing solutions such as Android Auto and MirrorLink that standardize the integration of smartphones with IVI systems – however such integrations are seldom seamless. This blog talks about these standards and the key consideration factors for integrating Smartphone’s with in-vehicle infotainment systems while using these standards.
What is Smartphone “Mirroring”?
Smartphone mirroring technologies provide a safe, smart and convenient way to enable users to use their smartphones in the car. It takes the applications that a driver wants to use while driving, such as navigation, entertainment, communication etc., and mirrors them on the IVI screen while providing intuitive interfaces such as voice commands, gesture controls etc.
Figure: Smartphone integration options
- Android Auto is a standard developed by Google that allows mobile devices running the Lollipop operating system (and higher versions) to be operated through safer interfaces such as IVI displays, knobs and buttons, etc. Supported apps include Google Maps, Google Play Music, MLB at Bat, Spotify, Songza, Stitcher, iHeart Radio, TuneIn etc.
- Car Connectivity Consortium’s Mirrorlink, jointly developed by various automotive and electronics manufacturers, is touted to be the most open option when it comes to smartphone connectivity to the car. And technically, the standard is OS independent.
Five consideration factors for smartphone integration
Even with the standards specifying the smartphone – IVI integration specifics, there are several factors that need to be considered for a seamless in-vehicle smartphone integration. Here is a list of top five factors that need to managed to deliver superior user experience and a faster time to market.
1. Connectivity over multiple physical media (USB, Wi-Fi) and managing quality
Most of the smartphone integration standards work on USB and/or WiFi. USB2.0 can provide reliable bandwidth of the order of 50-100mbps, and doesn’t come with connectivity challenges. Bandwidth over Wi-Fi, on the other hand, depends on several factors including Wi-Fi capability of the smartphone & IVI system, resulting in QoS challenges. Wi-Fi systems are also prone to connectivity challenges such as interference, long start-up time due to added authentication requirement, and frequent loss of connection. Developers need to manage these challenges while developing the smartphone integration solutions using Android Auto and MirrorLink.
2. Mirroring latency
To provide seamless experience to the users, the mirroring latency between the smartphone and IVI unit needs to extremely low, so that the users don’t see any lag. The latency is typically introduced due to:
- Latency in the smartphone end
- Latency introduced in physical transport such as USB, Wi-Fi etc.
- Latency introduced in head-unit due to buffering in operating system, processing time for de-compression, synchronization, re-transmission, rendering and other features or services running on the IVI unit
While latency introduced in smartphone or physical medium is not in control of IVI system developers, there is an enormous scope for optimizing the latency in IVI systems.
3. Reliable voice interface while managing cellular network issues
One of the key tenets of a smartphone integrated solution is that is provides hands free operations typically through voice recognition interfaces of the smartphone. However, the core voice recognition engine of a smartphone is hosted in the cloud, bringing about a critical dependency on cellular data network. While the cellular network dependency is something that is beyond the control of such integration efforts, the user experience design within the IVI system should take adequate measures to handle this scenario.
4. Quick boot and pairing
Quick start-up and integration with smartphone is one the key requirements for enhanced user experience. Some of the key consideration factors for implementing fast start-up would involve the following:
- Implementation of quick boot for operating systems, IVI unit launcher application and services
- Optimization of Wi-Fi and Network initialization, pairing, connect or re-connect
- Optimization of local rendering in head-unit
- Automatic detection of smartphones, prompting user or auto-launching involving minimal or no user interaction
5. Multiple smartphone connectivity standards and their co-existence
Head units are expected to implement multiple technologies, detect smartphones and automatically launch corresponding IVI system software. Auto launch requires implementation of services in operating system which can monitor activity in the physical transport and perform handshaking to identify the smartphone & corresponding technology. Each standard also comes with own set of stringent certification requirements spanning hardware, BSP, middleware etc. Knowledge of all these aspects is required to reduce the time to market.
In-vehicle smartphone integration standards - such as Android Auto and MirrorLink - are a great way to provide phone-like user-experience to vehicle owners. However, actual implementation of these standards is often riddled with several challenges pertaining to connectivity, latency, interfaces, start-up time and co-existence, as elaborated here. These challenges need to properly addressed by developers of such integration solutions so that the users can get true smartphone experience on the wheels.