QNX in the middle of ongoing in-car mobile device integration evolution

Ted Kritsonis

August 13, 2014 1:48am

Despite being under the BlackBerry umbrella, which hasn’t been filled with good news for some time now, QNX continues to do brisk business in the automotive world where its technologies find their way into millions of cars every year. The onset of Apple’s CarPlay and Google’s Android Auto only figures to improve its fortunes if those platforms meet expectations.

The car is one of the next major frontiers for mobile devices, where penetration is likely already high, yet implementation and integration continue to be sticking points. QNX has been a behind-the-scenes player in that respect, working with automakers and what are called Tier 1 suppliers to create the foundation for infotainment and telematics systems.

Part of what drives the company’s market share is the fact it is one of the keys behind OnStar, GM’s telematics service. It sits neck-and-neck with Microsoft, which has been integral in Ford’s SYNC infotainment system, though Ford recently announced it was jumping ship over to QNX.

The race (pardon the pun) to offer the best and most intuitive infotainment system in vehicles has attracted chipmakers that are already stalwarts in the mobile space. The likes of Nvidia, Qualcomm, Intel, Texas Instruments and Freescale have figured prominently in pushing the mobile and driver-assistance features now seen in today’s vehicles.

And yet, existing infotainment systems leave plenty to be desired, particularly since integration is limited in a number of ways. CarPlay and Android Auto have been designed to address those shortcomings for iOS and Android devices, respectively, but their presence isn’t considered a looming threat to QNX.

“Apple and Google aren’t replacing anything in the car, they’re projecting an experience into the car from a mobile device,” says Derek Kuhn, VP of sales and marketing at QNX, in an interview. “And that has to work hand in hand with what’s in the vehicle. They were looking for a more seamless integration inside, and they had the market clout to pull something like this off and get the automakers on board.”

QNX image 1_1

Kuhn adds that QNX has had a working relationship with Apple for at least five years, and was instrumental in enabling iPod Out functionality when it first launched in BMW vehicles several years ago, and have since worked together to ensure iOS connectivity with in-car systems. He views CarPlay as simply an evolution in moving from analog to digital with additional functionality.

Ties with Google haven’t been as long or as strong. QNX was involved in the Google Earth integration for Audi over four years ago, but close collaborations beyond that never followed. Even so, Kuhn says they are now in regular contact to ensure that the company can embrace Android Auto. He didn’t confirm, but it’s widely expected that Google’s new platform will also run on QNX.

“We don’t define the user experience because the QNX building blocks can be used to look like anything the OEM defines. It’s beyond our comfort level to influence them on the human-machine interface (HMI) design because those things are very personal to them,” he says.

In other words, QNX is like the middleware man. It builds the software that can bridge the gap between the disparate hardware and software parts that actually make up an in-car infotainment system. To call QNX the “glue” wouldn’t be a stretch, according to Kuhn. It also means that the underlying OS doesn’t dictate or determine which mobile devices or platforms will be supported in the car.

While Apple and Google entering the car’s cabin is more a working collaboration than an existential threat for QNX, specifically, the automotive industry, as a whole, faces an arduous task in implementing smartphones and tablets into vehicles. Basic things like hands-free calls and Bluetooth audio streaming are easy enough, especially for newer cars, but using third-party apps is currently a recipe for driver distraction.

There have been attempts to address that before. Millions of cars already have MirrorLink, along with some aftermarket stereos, but it didn’t quite succeed at becoming an industry standard.

“There was a lot of feedback in the industry about how screen-scraping an interface that was designed to be accessed with your thumb versus your finger at a greater distance, albeit on a larger screen, could cause distraction,” he says. “Where Apple and Google did a wonderful job was their system presents an interface which is specific for an automotive use case. Initially, MirrorLink didn’t offer that, though it does now.”

MirrorLink’s inherent advantage is that it has the potential to be truly agnostic. Founded by Nokia but now maintained by the Car Connectivity Consortium (CCC) made up of a number of vendors that include automakers and smartphone manufacturers, it recently added Windows Phone compatibility to its limited array of Android and Symbian device support. The hope is that Apple, BlackBerry and all Android device manufacturers would jump onboard as well. With CarPlay and Android Auto now out in the open, the jury’s out on whether that could actually happen now.

MHL (Mobile High-Definition Link)  is another standard that was initially focused on home theatre, but has since achieved limited adoption from a few automakers and aftermarket manufacturers like Pioneer, Kenwood, Sony and JVC. Compared to MirrorLink, however, it’s fighting an uphill battle.

And then there’s the issue of data. In-car app usage is one thing, but streaming content continuously can be a problem if the data bucket isn’t sufficient to begin with. Vehicles themselves are already becoming connected devices, and tethering will be the go-to option for a period, but there will likely be an expectation that the car would have its own SIM and be part of a data-sharing plan, like a tablet, for instance.

The GSM Association (GSMA) ratified a split billing and charging standard for connected car services last year that is under discussion with the carriers.

“Make no mistake, the biggest carriers — AT&T, Verizon, Vodafone, Telefonica — they’re all going after this like crazy because it’s the next big wave of connected devices that already has critical mass,” he says. “As late as six months ago, Verizon’s largest customer was GM because of OnStar. Now that GM has rolled out 4G-enabled vehicles, it may eventually be AT&T’s biggest customer in the future. That tells you something.”

Refining the in-car mobile experience will undoubtedly mean regular system updates that have to be downloaded and installed. Who will pay for that data? If the car has its own data plan, should system updates count against the monthly cap?

“If I’m a Rogers subscriber but my car’s manufacturer has a deal with Bell, what happens then? Not sure scenarios like that have been worked out, but it’s still more likely automakers will make their own deals with carriers,” notes Kuhn.

  • afdf

    I will never buy another vehicle with Microsoft in the infotainment cluster. You hear me Ford? It is literally the only thing I don’t like about my F-150. I never knew you can make such a simple thing in such a poor way.

    • FKnm

      Totally agree. It’s such a dummy system in my focus…

  • Colin Chong

    Auto manufacturers will have to support nearly all handsets. When consumers hit the dealerships, they don’t want to worry about whether their $200 will work with their $20,000 car. The embedded infotainment and Telematics system in the car will have to be robust in its own right, but seamless connectivity between all devices will also be crucial a highly desired feature. There’s no mention of Bluetooth here, but it has largely failed for mass adoption of in car pairing. I’d bet on cloud/identity syncs to gain more prevalence in the future.

  • 3aliensfromsaturn

    Automakers need QNX. They are NOT software savvy and more and more consumers want to be able to communicated via vehicle while driving.

  • JB

    Excellent write up, and was an informing read. Cheers.

  • uywin

    right. and apple is working on a time machine. QNX will never bring anything to market. how long have they been working on the same thing for years?

    • TheFloppyBeaver

      You understand that QNX is the dominant player in automotive infotainment currently yes? Their automotive suite is out and have been used for many years by many manufacturers already.

    • Me Ted

      Nokia used to be the dominant player in the mobile space. We all know how that turned out. I’d rather have Apple or Google powering my car’s “infotainment system” than these other jokers who have lost the plot.

    • TheFloppyBeaver

      What are you talking about, uywin said “QNX would never bring anything to market” and I responded that he/she is clueless because they’re already the dominant player in automotive infotainment.

      Learn to stay on topic Ted.

    • Me Ted

      “You understand that QNX is the dominant player in automotive infotainment currently yes?”

      You said that. I responded to it. Maybe you didn’t read your own post. No need to be a douchnozzle.

    • TheFloppyBeaver

      Right, in response to the OP claiming they don’t have anything on the market.

      You’re entitled to your feelings, but it has nothing to do with the discussion in this thread.

      It’s difficult to tell whose a troll and whose not in these types of discussions, so if trolling wasn’t your intention, I apologize. But you calling QNX “jokers” when in fact they are the backbone of the best infotainments out there didn’t help your cause.

    • Me Ted

      ‘But you calling QNX “jokers” when in fact they are the backbone of the best infotainments out there didn’t help your cause.”

      My point is simple. Apple and Google will eventually take over this space as well.

    • TheFloppyBeaver

      Which is great, you’re free to post that in a new thread.

      What your feeling has to do with my response to the OP, I have no idea.

    • Striker67

      That’s assuming a lot. Unlike the phone makers these guys are not sitting on their thumbs and are working collaboratively with both apple and google

    • igs terious

      The primary need of the telematics and connected car systems is security. Considering how Google´s Android so vulnerable to attacks (not even mentioning the OS stability), this “eventual takeover” is not happening in decades.

      Once again, as others pointed out, please get your information right befor you engage in a discussion here. Thank you.

    • Striker67

      You have no idea what you are talking about.

    • Me Ted

      Really. That’s your rebuttal? Lol. Spoken like someone who has a vested interest in the platform. Typical.

    • Striker67

      LOL…Okay. Your apple and google dominance is so far from what is happening that it hardly warrants a rebuttal. Since both Apple and Google are using QNX as a bridge to the current infrastructure in much of the automotive industry you have no basis for your comment. The fact that both are using it right now negates your theory that they will take over. The automotive industry moves much slower than tech so even if it were true it would be years and I mean many years away from actual implementation. Trust me I wish I had a vested interest.

    • Me Ted

      QNX is the middle man in both of these partnerships. Google and Apple move far too quickly and demand quite a lot from their own ecosystems especially when it comes to innovation. How long do you think it’ll be before both of them decide to go it on their own because Blackberry can’t match their pace?

    • Striker67

      Now we have hit the nail on the head. It’s a blackberry thing. QNX Automotive is totally separate from the Blackberry stuff. No impact on the automotive stuff. remember it was blackberry who bought QNX for their operating system. Also, when it comes to stuff like this if they can’t buy them they do work with them and pay royalties if necessary. I read once that Google pays Microsoft so much for royalties each android licence. QNX is an established platform on the automotive front. Much different scenario than the smartphone arena.

    • midnightdoom

      You obviously don’t know much about QNX or read the article.. they are the infrastructure behind OnStar, Ford is switching to them, they are in Mercedes, BMW. Not to mention hospitals and warehouse inventory systems used by companies like Amazon. They run the systems that control traffic lights.. QNX is in a lot of areas, and they will only be in more and you won’t even know it, hence how the article says QNX is the building blocks being Car play and Android Auto

    • janis

      ford is switching to them? lmao. do you know anything? those were rumours and it was confirmed FALSE.
      right..qnx is everywhere..yet we don’t see them and the parents company is going bankrupt.

    • hoo dat

      And you’re accusing others of not knowing anything? I am LMFAO here, I really am! It has been subsequently and tacitly confirmed that QNX will be taking over from Microsoft to develop OS for their in car infotainment systems. Oh, and can you provide a link that proves the BlackBerry is bankrupt or heading that way? All this spite toward a company just because you don’t like them is truly odd and unwarranted.

    • midnightdoom

      Funny, even this article says Ford is switching, CNET is still reporting the switch as of a few weeks ago too. My factory also supplies ford and the Auto news postings they give us to keep us updates with auto industry says there’s a switch. But ok, treat it as unconfirmed until Ford actually makes a press release. It was one small example you had to use to make it a BlackBerry bashing.. BlackBerry is not going bankrupt and those were just a handful of the areas qnx is in.. I did leave out ALOT

    • igs terious

      sources for the rumor confirmed false?
      sources for the parent company going bankrupt?

    • hoo dat

      You forgot nuclear power stations, military establishments, government facilities, automotive manufacturing facilities, etc, etc. There aren’t very many people in the world that aren’t touched somehow by QNX software.

    • Did you even READ this article?!

      To our editor:
      NVidia Tegra 2 was used in the Audi A8 just 4yrs ago … their NOT new at infotainment chipsets … you need to research and revise your article.

  • ldk2bsure

    Has anyone heared when QNX for Myford Touch will be able to be retrofitted on existing systems?