Infotainment systems in new cars are probably the most easily seen example of how consumer technology is changing the automotive industry. The decade of smartphones has changed our expectations; by now we’re used to frequent updates that car makers are still trying to wrap their business models around. As Ron Amadeo found in his mammoth review, some infotainment systems are better than others, but it’s fair to say that the best ones are really good.
We are still at the point where third parties are developing applications for these car platforms, which is probably a good thing, as the sad failure to Windows Phone shows. (A couple of caveats: yes, it’s not quite competitive to the smartphone market, and I doubt that an infotainment system will be the main reason someone decides to buy a specific make or model. And yes, Apple and Google have created “casted interface. “For iOS and Android. But the number of devices that are compatible with this mode is limited, and many OEMs are not open to add CarPlay or Android Auto support to their infotainment platforms .) For example, Parkmobile recently added an application for the BMW iDrive platform, and iHeartRadio has been very active in porting its application to various infotainment platforms.
I have been wondering about whether it is a challenge to get one’s application on all these platforms. Unfortunately, getting producers to talk on the record isn’t so easy, but Michele Laven, president of business development and partnerships at iHeartMedia, gave Ars some feedback on the process.
We view these platforms as extensions of our brands and as part of our mission to ensure that consumers are able to access our content wherever and whenever they may want to listen. Research tells us that most consumers use AM/FM radio in the car. And, while over 91 percent said they don’t want to see changes made to the traditional point and click user experience, we see iHeartRadio integrations in the digital dash as another opportunity to reach our listeners. Although the automation field requires development for multiple platforms, I wouldn’t think it’s much different than multiple TV brands, virtual assistants, or any other category, all of which require custom integrations.
I asked Laven if that meant a lot of building materials from scratch or if there was a lot of portability (for example, between different QNX-based platforms). “There are general guidelines that apply across OEMs in terms of what is permissible with driver distraction and what user experiences work best in the vehicle,” he told me. “But each platform and specific integration has its own nuances. We use the same code in all platforms whenever possible, and the movement to a handful of core systems has helped to improve, but it is fair to say that each union is unique.”
That makes me think it’s almost a good thing that Google is now working with OEMs to produce an Android Automotive infotainment system. That should mean the barrier to developing native infotainment apps is greatly reduced.
From what Laven told me, the slower rate of change in the Farm world is also something app developers have to worry about. “It’s a constant process of balancing priorities and deploying resources for maximum impact,” he said. “Our flagship iHeartRadio mobile apps are able to stop developing continuously, and we do a lot of testing and learning beyond product releases. The Automotive space has long product cycles, which creates a constant challenge.”
While this is a developer’s perspective, I’m also interested in the end user’s perspective, so please share your experiences using third-party infotainment apps in the comments.