Coming soon to new cars and trucks: ‘infotainment’ systems are smart stereos
Over the next few years, it’s reasonable to expect that any new car or truck you might buy will come equipped with one of two “infotainment” systems: Apple orAndroid.
An infotainment system is the successor to the car stereo – a system that combines audio entertainment functions with vehicle information.
Like the phones most of us carry in our pockets, the majority of vehicle infotainment systems now tap into either of the two brands of smartphone technology, and sometimes both.
Both Apple Car Play and Android Auto allow users to project smartphone applications onto a vehicle’s dash-mounted infotainment screen, making it unnecessary to balance the phone on the steering column or clamp it in an unwieldy windshield suction cup mount. The idea is to reduce driver distraction by integrating smartphone functions into the car’s controls while disabling certain features while the car is in motion.
Among the world’s largest automakers, Toyota stands alone in that its electronics support neither Apple Car Play nor Android Auto. That may sound strange, but in doing so, explains Karl Brauer, senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book, the world’s number one automaker has held on to its independence.
“Toyota wants to maintain control of its user interface and customer information by developing its own connected car interface,” he told the Guardian. “Most others have surrendered to the appeal and effectiveness of using outside systems, which puts Toyota at a disadvantage.”
Among manufacturers selling vehicles in the US, Apple’s product will be available in certain models built by Audi, Ferrari, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi, Porsche, Volkswagen and Volvo.
Android Auto will serve some of those brands – and Kia – but not Ferrari, Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi or Porsche. Subaru is notably absent from both lists, but it is also much smaller than most of the other companies.
At issue, Brauer says, is consumers’ preference for a seamless transition between their phones and their cars, something Apple Car Play and Android Auto are able to provide.
“Toyota will be hard pressed to match those features, at least in the near term, although eventually it could develop interfaces as intuitive as Apple’s and Google’s.”
Perhaps now that infotainment technology has reached such a level, the days of auto company executives bemoaning millennials’ collective disinterest in the car-owning experience will come to an end. Automakers seem to have embraced that generation’s love of all things smartphone and are doing everything they can to integrate mobile technology with actual mobility – in other words, driving.
At the North American International Auto Show press preview, held in Detroit this week, Ford Motor Company introduced a new high performance pickup. But executives from America’s number two automakers had much more to say about Ford Pass, the “smart mobility” service CEO Mark Fields said he hoped would make Ford “a serious player in mobility services”.
What does that mean? Ford wants to expand its business into ride and car sharing. Fields said that although Ford had a 4% share of an auto sales business worth more than $2tn, the company has designs on tapping into a mobility services market he says is worth $5.3tn.
Ford Pass is scheduled to commence in April as a subscription-based service for both Ford owners and people who have never even thought of driving a Ford. Fields – flanked onstage by Bill Ford Jr, the company’s executive chairman and, for some reason, TV personality Ryan Seacrest – said Ford Pass was the automaker’s attempt to “reimagine the customer experience” by creating more interactions with customers and thereby improving customer feedback.
“It’s similar to GM’s OnStar, but offers a much wider spectrum of services over a broader range of needs,” Brauer said. “It’s a strong sign of Ford’s desire to be more than just a car company, as well as the automaker’s willingness to explore new options and business models.”