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Why Apple is revving iOS in the Car for an aggressive 2014 launch

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Apple's chief executive Tim Cook described the company's 2014 launch of iOS in the Car as "very, very important" and a "key focus for us." Here's a look at what the industry thinks, the competition Apple faces in automotive, and why it's pushing so hard for an immediate launch next year.

This segment focusing on the incumbent players in the automotive industry follows up on yesterday's feature Why Tim Cook described Apple's iOS in the Car strategy as 'very important,' which detailed the origins of iOS in the Car and how Apple details it will work. An editorial further examines the strategic importance of Apple's iOS in the Car

Who's going to use iOS in the Car?

When iOS in the Car was introduced at this summer's Worldwide Developer Conference, Eddy Cue, Apple's senior vice president of Internet Software and Services, the group that manages iTunes, iCloud, the App Store, iMessages, Siri and Maps, showcased (below) a dozen auto marques, representing nine different makers: Honda/Acura, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan/Infiniti, Ferrari, Chevrolet/Opel, Kia, Hyundai, Volvo and Jaguar, noting that they "are all introducing iOS integration in 2014."

iOS in the Car makers

He didn't specifically clarify whether that meant they would all adopt iOS in the Car, as opposed to simpler efforts related to Siri Eyes Free. However, the list of companies that already committed to support basic Eyes Free includes manufacturers that Cue didn't list in the above slide: BMW, Land Rover, Audi, Toyota and Chrysler.

That indicates that Cue's list of automotive iOS adopters isn't just integrating hands free access to Siri; they've committed to launch the full enchilada on at least some of their cars next year. That list also isn't exhaustive; there are additional significant automakers who have expressed interest in Apple's plans but have not yet committed to its boldly aggressive insistence on deploying iOS in the Car by 2014.

The reports of my opposition have been greatly exaggerated

For example, BMW/Mini was initially reported to be uninterested in adopting iOS in the Car simply due to its omission from the announcement, a story that gained traction because BMW has a history of working with Apple in the past on iPod and iPhone integration.

The company was quick to clarify matters in statement to AutoBlog explaining that it was "in close contact with Apple and currently investigating the technical challenges required to integrate iOS in the Car" and explaining that, "since a final decision had not been made, it was not a part of Apple's announcement."

Thus, the site wrote, "according to BMW, integration of iOS in the Car in its cars has not been ruled out at all."

iOS in the Car iMessages
Source: Apple

Similarly, a report by GottaBeMobile last month noted that Ford was also looking at iOS in the Car and how it could build a "seamless experience" that integrated iOS 7 with other automotive features, including AM/FM radio, Sirius satellite radio and climate controls.

The report cited Jim Buczkowski, the director of Electrical and Electronics Systems at Ford Research and Innovation, as saying that Apple met with the company "around the time of the Apple WWDC 2013 event," but stated that "they were very specific around launching in 2014, shipping product in 2014, and we weren't ready to commit to shipping in 2014."

Ford is the second largest car maker by unit market share according to Edmunds.com. It's also a pioneer in driving broad adoption of auto infotainment systems in partnership with Microsoft.

auto market share
Source: Edmunds

Is Microsoft Sync about to get Zuned?

Ford's readiness to express public interest in Apple's iOS in the Car is noteworthy because Ford has maintained a long relationship with Microsoft in developing "carputer" integration features based on Windows Embedded Automotive, a product built on Windows CE. Ford announced its first Microsoft-based integration product in 2007 under the Sync and MyFord brands.

Ford's Sync features run on what is essentially a low end ARM PC built by German auto parts maker Continental AG, with custom integration that ties into Garmin navigation, vehicle system information, climate control systems, terrestrial and satellite radio, smartphone integration features and custom apps that work with certain Android, BlackBerry, iPhone and Windows Mobile (but not, ironically, Windows Phone) models.

Ford Sync

The difference between Ford Sync (depicted above, in an image from Wikipedia) and Apple's iOS in the Car is, if anything, more significant than the difference between the iPhone and Microsoft's Windows Mobile in 2007.

It also demonstrates that Microsoft's Windows Embedded Automotive seeks to do more than Apple demonstrated at WWDC: it includes prominent integration with other car features such as the radio and climate systems, as referred to by Buczkowski.

Solving these integration issues shouldn't be very difficult given the maturity of Apple's iOS app development tools and their widespread use by developers of the App Store's more than 900,000 titles. Apple also already notes "third-party audio apps, and more" in describing the features of iOS in the Car, indicating that, much like Apple TV, it plans to work with third parties to add app-like new functionality to its new automotive offering.

The charitable reviews of Ford Sync

While PC Mag gave the system a "good" rating in its recent review, it sounds like they were grading on a curve. It highlighted that Sync's "robust GPS navigation is a step ahead of most other automakers" and delivered "comprehensive music options," but also pointed out the "sometime-stubborn touch screen, plenty of irritants scattered throughout the user interface, voice command accuracy is still hit or miss, and a few bugs."

In particular, the description of its "robust GPS navigation" seemed to be negated by the author's actual experience, which noted, "map view remains 2D-only. In addition, the map database already needs updating, if our test routes were any indication. One intersection I put in— J Street and East Cayuga Street in Philadelphia— left me off by several blocks in both directions. Sync brought me to an entirely different intersection than the one I entered, and even said that it did (was it messing with me?). "Some of the quirks were infuriating, simply because a regular QA process should have revealed so many of these flaws to Ford and Microsoft engineers." PC Mag

"Several street addresses I entered were off by several blocks as well. A Dunkin Donuts supposedly next to my hotel in Braintree, MA was completely MIA. I couldn't even see where it may have been at one time, because it was in the middle of a huge lot full of industrial warehouses. I used my iPhone's GPS many times as a backup; Google Maps was correct in every single instance Ford Sync wasn't."

The review concluded as if it were fawning over an Android product: "Ford Sync with MyFord Touch was a tough product to review. Some of the quirks were infuriating, simply because a regular QA process should have revealed so many of these flaws to Ford and Microsoft engineers. But despite all of that, I can still recommend Ford Sync, simply because it enhances your entertainment and navigation experiences so much when you're behind the wheel."

End users are not quite so kind. The third highest Google search result for "Ford Sync reviews" is a site named syncsucks.com.

The site details a series of common complaints including, "Screen goes black and won't come back on; Back-up camera goes black without warning while backing up; Sync system restarts without warning while driving; Sync system freezes up completely even after the vehicle is turned off; Says phone connected, yet voice says no phone connected when asking to dial number; Displays phone is connected, yet after repeated efforts it will not respond to ANY voice command; Music randomly starts playing while using the phone; Randomly jumps from audio source to audio source; Keeps disconnecting USB iPod; Will not recognize multiple brand-new USB jump drives; Never really got to enjoy my six months of satellite radio as Sync said I had no subscription, forcing me to call Sirius multiple times to try and sort that out."

Microsoft's other auto partners

While Ford's Sync implementation is proprietary to the company, Ford isn't the only customer of Microsoft's Windows Embedded Automotive. Fiat's Blue&Me infotainment system, launched in 2004, is also based on the OS (originally called "Windows Mobile for Automotive"), and similarly uses hardware from Continental.

Kia UVO

Another auto partner Microsoft details in a case study is Kia, which has worked with the company since 2006 on its UVO branded system with voice-controlled entertainment features (above). "We've been in the automotive arena for a while already, but we think we can take it a lot further." - Microsoft

However, Kia is also one of the launch partners for iOS in the Car, indicating that Microsoft's once leading position in automotive integration seems to immediately be at risk in the first launch of Apple's program.

A report by AutoNews Europe in May detailed ambitious plans by Microsoft to hold onto its car customers.

It cited Pranish Kumar, group program manager for Windows Embedded Automotive, as saying, "we've been in the automotive arena for a while already, but we think we can take it a lot further."

Apple's other iOS in the Car competition

Also competing in the car market is BlackBerry subsidiary QNX, which the report noted "has global contracts with the likes of General Motors, BMW, Audi and Volkswagen." All three makers are in line to support Siri's Eyes Free, which wouldn't require much effort, but only GM and BMW have expressed public interest in adopting iOS in the Car.

A third source of competition is the GENIVI Alliance ("Geneva In-Vehicle Infotainment"), a consortium of companies that have been working since 2009 to develop an Android-like platform of open source components built on Linux.

This group counts GM, PSA/Peugeot-Citroen, Renault-Nissan, Hyundai and BMW among its members, and has the support of component makers including Bosch and Continental. But again, several members here are also onboard with Apple for iOS in the Car in 2014.

Note that the systems used in automotive infotainment packages are not necessarily exclusive; many systems use multiple components to deliver various vehicular information, control and entertainment systems. Makers also seek to differentiate their offerings with custom, in-house systems that make use of proprietary selling points, such as BMW's iDrive controller or Audi's similar MMI.

These systems already integrate with iPods and iOS devices, as Apple profiles in its iPod car integration gallery, which specifically highlights the existing propriety infotainment systems of Audi/Porsche/Volkswagen, BMW, Ford, Infinity and Mercedes among a roster of more than three dozen car brands.

iPod car integration
Source: Apple

Apple's aggressive deployment of iOS in the Car

Apple is clearly gunning to take over the automotive user interface with iOS in the Car, with both its simple touchscreen controls and its Siri Eyes Free functionality it outlined last summer.

Below the user interface, Apple can also offer car makers access to its iOS custom development tools, which are already in wide use across a variety of industries and have a clear lead in the enterprise and in business in general

According to IDC, Apple has taken 62.5 percent of the business smartphone market with iPhone. It virtually owns the entire business tablet market with iPad. Given how pathetically Microsoft, Blackberry, Google and its Android licensees have floundered while struggled to produce simple consumer tablets, it would appear the automotive market is Apple's for the taking.

Apple's platform competence

One last aspect Apple is sure to leverage as it enters the automotive market is the company's unique reputation for delivering regular, progressive updates of iOS, and its uncharacteristically long-term support for devices it has sold.

While neither Google nor Microsoft have managed to support their hardware partners' Android or Windows Phone devices with platform updates beyond even a year and a half, Apple has consistently rolled out a steady stream of significant updates for iOS products for multiple years.

iPhone 4, for example, will have had an incredible four years of free updates across the lifespan of iOS 7. That's a factor that becomes important when dealing with vehicles, which unlike consumer gadgets aren't routinely replaced every year or two.

The above report by AutoNews cited Anna Buettner, a vehicle infotainment sector analyst for IHS Automotive, as noting that Apple is respected for dependability.

"The most important issue for having advanced software platforms in cars is that they have to be reliable," Buettner added. "It's one thing for a software glitch to occur in your navigation system. It will be a more serious issue in the future if one occurs in your brakes. This is what some automakers are still afraid of: Can these software operating systems be completely reliable?"

While the tech media has enthusiastically cheered on every new iOS competitor to enter the market, there hasn't been much competence and followthrough backing up the initial screen shots and promises of the Sun jPhone, Android, Palm's webOS, Samsung's Bada, BlackBerry 10, Windows Mobile, Windows Phone and Windows RT.

The smartphone-style potential in automotive

The global market for auto-integration systems is now around 12 million, according to IHS, cited in the same report. That's a figure that is expected to more than double to 25 million by 2018. And that explains why Apple is itching to get started in a big way next year, as automotive systems take off in the way smartphones began to explode around the launch of iPhone a half decade ago.

Profits in automotive are also alluring; IHS iSuppli estimated Ford Sync's core hardware to cost around $130, but Ford markets the voice activated Sync, along with a Sirius radio and a convenience package, in a option priced at $1,250.

Selling Sync was a significant priority at Microsoft. The report described a "$70 million co-branded and integrated marketing campaign" which "leveraged the global recognition of Microsoft brand name with the tagline 'SYNC, powered by Microsoft.'"

It added that "by the end of 2009, SYNC was available on over 20 of Ford's passenger vehicle models, with the feature 'take-rate' averaging approximately 70% across the line-up."

BMW updates

BMW's X series "technology package," which includes voice and data services, navigation, smartphone integration and support for apps, costs around $2,250 just by itself. And unlike Apple's free annual iOS updates, the company sends out invitations to their customers to pay for map software updates. This one (above) cost "just $245," or more than an iPod touch.

This appears to paint a clear picture of the automotive potential for Apple being very similar to the state of hard drive music players in 2001, smartphones in 2007 and tablets in 2010. Apple has made it pretty clear that it wants to make a big splash in automotive in 2014 as it rolls out iOS in the Car.

One more thing: tomorrow's editorial examines the strategic importance of Apple's iOS in the Car, highlighting why the new initiative is a bigger deal for Apple than it might initially appear.

 

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