Why a hybrid approach is vital to future-proofing your in-car entertainment system

The pace of change in software development is incredibly fast, and it’s becoming increasingly complex. As cars become more software-focused, the need to update car software regularly will increase. It will become as natural as updating software on a smartphone. This need will be even more acute in in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) and in-car entertainment, which are growing in influence on purchasing decisions. In this blog, I’ll outline what this means in practice.

Evolution of in-car entertainment

The evolution of in-car entertainment is progressing rapidly, which is a new experience for automotive OEMs and Tier 1s. For decades, a fixed FM radio device was the only form of entertainment they needed to install. Then cassette players came to the fore, and they lasted a decade or so before CD players, then DAB radio became commonplace. All these examples required installation of the relevant piece hardware when the car was manufactured, but after that, OEMs and Tier 1s didn’t need to do anything – there were no updates required once the car left the production line.

But now we’re in a connected world which brings great opportunities for services, but also some threats that were not a concern before. The priority is streaming audio, with video waiting in the wings to take centre stage when every car comes with one or more multi-use screens.

The car lifecycle clashes with connected services

Meanwhile, operating systems have been through their own evolution and at a much faster pace than in-car entertainment. From Windows CE and QNX, to Linux and now Android (with fragmented variants based on AOSP, the open-source variant that OEMs can take, adapt and modify as they need). Streaming is becoming a key buying criterion for cars, with 63% of drivers rating in-car entertainment as one of the car’s most important features, according to The PwC Digital Auto Report in 2020. For OEMs and Tier 1s to meet this demand, automotive and software development timelines need to come together.

But car development is very slow, especially when compared to software and streaming services. For example, take the projected lifecycle of an electric vehicle (EV). Batteries are expected to last around 7 years once the car hits the road. However, the development phase of the vehicle typically takes 2-3 years before that. So, OEMs are preparing cars today that will be on the road in 10 years’ time. This is a long time in the world of connected services, and the software and content landscape could look completely different by then.

To put this in perspective, 10 years ago, you probably hadn’t heard of Spotify – and Android was at version 3 – or Honeycomb – with API level 9. September 2020 saw the release of Android 11with API level 30! 10 years from now, Spotify may not be the dominant audio streaming service it is today. OEMs need to plan for this type of scenario now and ensure they can support the next great content app that comes along.

Hedging your bets with a hybrid approach

A hybrid approach is the most sensible route to take as cars enter the connected world. There are simply too many unknowns for OEMs to place their eggs in one basket now. We don’t know what the future of in-car screens and bring-your-own-device (BYOD) use will be like. Today, broadcast content (including data) from DAB radio, and even FM radio depending on coverage, is still the main consumed content in-car. Mobile coverage varies drastically, so OEMs must be able to smoothly switch from one to another when needed. And mirroring from mobile devices must be supported as car users transition to connected cars via their smartphones and then embedded apps. Car users are moving to connected services at different paces, so OEMs must support them wherever they are on their journey.

Security is another crucial factor for OEMs to consider, especially as the car is now connected to the outside world. If mobile and connected TV worlds are anything to go by, then regular software updates will be become the norm – and possibly even more frequent due to the additional personal safety concerns within a vehicle. OEMs must have the flexibility to support regular updates, whatever the circumstances.

Leave content to the experts

It doesn’t make sense for OEMs to take on the mantle of managing relationships with rights-holders and navigating multiple complex rights deals themselves when it comes to content services. Instead, they should really use an aggregator to do it for them. There are several reasons for this, not least that rights deals are short-term affairs compared to the lifespan of a car. Also, content delivery is incredibly complicated, with new frontiers for OEMs like content protection (digital rights management, or DRM). Put simply, OEMs will find it far easier and quicker to get to market if they lean on experts for support – in the same way that OEMs have relied on their tier 1 partners to deliver functional components for their vehicles rather than sourcing themselves. User data and customer insight will become much more important – as OEMs have a longer relationship with cars, they should want to have control of this rather than ceding to a third-party platform that may have another agenda.

Another big factor to consider is the screen resolution and aspect ratio, and cars are some way off reaching a standardised approach like TV (and it’s highly unlikely they will). Here’s a breakdown of the main issues that OEMs face:

  • The nuances of cars will complicate app support: Different screen sizes and aspect ratios are all the rage in automotive but are unsuitable for supporting video streaming (some wide screens are more akin to a digital billboard beside a sports match than a TV).
  • Keeping up with software devices across multiple devices is tough: Even in the world of TV, with standardisation on 16:9 aspect ratios, premium content providers have their work cut out.
  • App developers will not be keen on supporting multiple screen sizes and ratios: Picture the scene – a testing room full of VW head units, then another for Mercedes, another for BMW etc.
  • Video streaming experience innovations are evolving all the time: There are ample opportunities to keep viewers engaged, e.g., adding more sports stats alongside the main broadcast or allowing voting on talent shows. Of course, when such functionality hits our TV screens, there will be a demand to carry it through to the car. But this will only be possible if app developers are willing and able to do it (i.e., they need the process of updating apps to be as straightforward as possible).

As OEMs prepare for the era of the connected car to kick into gear, it’s important to remember how quickly software – and essential components like operating systems and browsers – and content services evolve in the modern world. Compared to the pace of car rollouts, it will be like stepping onto a Maglev after a light stroll. Those that are best placed to succeed are taking a hybrid approach, and many new revenue opportunities will come their way through the agile ability to quickly support new and existing connected services as a result.

Why radio holds the key to automotive OEM success

By Sven Eckoldt, Global Product Director, ACCESS Europe, and Xavier Filliol, COO, Radioline

The car has a long history with audio content that goes back many decades. Think FM radio, cassettes, CD players, DAB and satellite radio. Audio in the car has been a staple part of the driving experience ever since the first commercial car radios launched in the 1930s. 90 years later and radio remains the champion in the car.

In this blog we’re looking at what audio in the car will look like as cars become connected and, crucially, the implications for automotive OEMs.

In car infotainment (IVI) has evolved over the years but radio has always been at its heart

Radio is King

A reason why radio in various forms has proved so popular is that it’s so easy to use. Long before “user experience” became a well-used term, radio offered a simple one-touch solution to car drivers who wanted to be entertained but had to keep their eyes on the road. One press of a button and they could start a channel that was curated based on factors including music tastes, time of day, and location.

It’s easy to see why audio in the car has been so popular through the years. But the relationship between cars and content is undergoing a fundamental shift as cars become connected. They will be an extension of the always-on, connected lifestyle that encompasses smart TVs, smart homes, and smartphones. In turn, user expectations will increase and they will want access to all the content they want wherever they are. What does this change mean for the future of audio services in the car?

Radio led in user experience long before it was even a term. With one push of a button to activate, the simplicity of radio suits car drivers perfectly.

Automotive OEMs are manufacturing and shipping tens of millions of cars around the globe every year. They need an entertainment device that will deliver relevant content to car users anywhere in the world with the least amount of hassle. And they need it to work throughout a car’s lifecycle, which is years in planning and manufacturing, before being rolled out onto roads across the globe where they could be in use for 10+ years.

FM radio’s ability to tune into local stations anywhere made OEMs’ lives very easy. Then, when DAB came in, listeners could enjoy greater choice and user features but with the same low maintenance for OEMs: once the radio device is up and running they don’t really need to touch it again.

Now we’re entering the age of the connected car and there is a fundamental shift in: a) the expectations of car users; and b) the work required by OEMs to deliver on those expectations.

But why the rush? There are several reasons. One is that connected services are becoming an increasingly important factor in car purchasing decisions. The PwC Digital Auto Report 2020 reported that 63% of US drivers rated in-car entertainment as one of the car’s most important features. Another factor is electrification. As engines are replaced by batteries, OEMs will have to find new differentiators inside the car to stand out.

The automotive and content mismatch

Delivering what car users want in this connected age poses problems for OEMs that they have never faced before. The world of content rights is incredibly complex, especially when you’re looking for content that is locally relevant in a multitude of different countries with different languages and cultures.

Also, rights deals tend to be short-term compared to car lifecycles. Where OEMs are planning 10 years ahead, content deals tend to be limited to certain geographies over a period of two to three years. The timings between the automotive and content industries just don’t match.

One option could be to strike a deal with one of the biggest content players. But who’s to say that a music service like Spotify, which is big today but barely existed 10 years ago, will still be around in its current form 10 years from now? OEMs simply can’t take the risk of placing all their eggs in one basket. They need to present car users with whatever choice of content they want at that time, whether it’s three, five, or ten years from now.

They need a future-proof solution. And this requires a content aggregator to handle the rights, as well as a software provider to ensure that operating systems, browsers, and app stores work throughout the course of the car’s lifecycle.

Content and software going hand-in-hand

This is why the tie-up between ACCESS Europe and Radioline is so important right now. For those of you who are not familiar with Radioline, its app offers more than 90,000 radio channels, web radio stations, national and local programmes and podcasts from 130 countries. It is hosted on ACCESS Europe’s ACCESS Twine™ for Car (Twine4Car) in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) system, which includes the first dedicated in-car app store. Twine4Car handles software challenges such as operating system updates and user experience issues such as synchronisation between mobile devices and the car.

The evolution of content consumption in the car is proceeding at pace. After decades of FM radio, then cassette, CD, DAB, and satellite radio, the streaming revolution is set to take off at spectacular speed when connectivity comes to the car. It is an exciting time for OEMs who have an opportunity to build relationships with their users in a way they’ve never been able to do before. But the clock is ticking and they will not have time to find success alone. They need partners who understand content rights and software to future-proof their interests over the long-term. However, if they set the wheels in motion now then the future of looks incredibly bright.

You can find out more about ACCESS Twine™ for Car here, or about Radioline here.

Lessons in data ownership from mobile

I am often asked about the connected car and the role that data will play in the future. There’s no denying that the in-car experience is set to undergo a fundamental shift towards connected services. Whoever controls the data will control a new form of relationship with car users and reap the resulting financial rewards. So how do OEMs ensure that their current customer relationships carry through to this always-on, data focused environment?

I think OEMs and Tier 1s are actually quite fortunate to have examples from other industries as they plan their next steps. The most relevant example I can think of is what has happened to the mobile industry over the last 15-20 years. Mobile is a huge industry, with more than 1.6 billion mobile phones expected to be sold in 2021 according to CCS Insight’s Ben Wood. But despite this, LG, which was once a huge player in the market, has announced its departure from mobile in a move which has not really come as a great surprise to anyone.

LG simply found it impossible to differentiate enough in a market that is dominated by Apple and Android, the latter successfully driving the user experience in phones from a number of device manufacturers. Samsung has done extremely well to carve out a niche at the top end of the market alongside the iPhone. For most other mobile manufacturers, the only room for differentiation is through price. Meanwhile, mobile operators such as Vodafone have lost control of user relationships that they once had complete ownership over through their portals.

I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this: if OEMs do not control the user data and relationships then there is a very real risk that they simply end up providing ‘devices’ for the operating system and connected services to sit in. If this happens then the OEMs will find it increasingly hard to differentiate, a situation that will only be exacerbated when electric vehicles become more widespread and the engine is removed (you can read more on that in a blog I published last year).

This is not to say I would advise companies against working with the big software companies in automotive today – quite the opposite. There are technologies and operating systems that are already ingrained in the fabric of our connected lives and OEMs and Tier 1s could place themselves at a disadvantage by not embracing their use in the car. But at the same time, they must think about the data and who has ultimate control over it if they are to avoid the harsh lessons of LG and so many others.

Find out how OEMs and Tier 1s can connect with car users using ACCESS Twine™ for Car, a branded IVI interface that engages car users through streamed content services.

Volkswagen rebrands its automotive software organisation as CARIAD

I’m pleased to see that Volkswagen has re-branded its automotive software organisation as CARIAD, as I was never completely sure which letters to capitalise and where the full stop went in ‘Car.Software Org’. It’s also great to see from its new website that Volkswagen is really getting behind bundling together its software competencies and further expand them, building upon a heritage of bringing automotive innovation to everyone.

The website describes how CARIAD is creating one unified software platform for Volkswagen Group. Building a uniform, standardised operating system, VW.OS, for more than 10 million Volkswagen Group vehicles per year. It is also building Volkswagen Automotive Cloud, a globally networked, cloud-based ecosystem for its cars. Volkswagen says that “our AI and machine learning capabilities will enable us to make use of the vast amount of data to make automotive mobility safer, more comfortable and more sustainable.”

Additionally, CARIAD will concentrate upon:

  • Intelligent Body & Cockpit
  • Automated Driving
  • Vehicle Motion & Energy
  • Digital Business & Mobility Services

For safety reasons it’s critical that auto OEMs can retain control of all car functionality and in-car experiences, one major reason for Volkswagen’s desire to produce unified and re-usable code through CARIAD. For the OEM this is a challenge, but it is also ultimately great news. Maintaining control means that the car OEMs keep passengers and drivers safe and also opens up exciting possibilities for earning additional margins from the car’s data and connectivity.

A web-search showed me that CARIAD is a Welsh word for sweetheart. I’m not sure how many Welsh speakers were part of the new naming decision, but I am sure that Volkswagen will do everything it can to make sure that we all love the cars and their functionality underpinned by the software that CARIAD is to produce its vehicles.

Successful In-Car Entertainment needs you to be both local and global and cover all demographics

The in-car entertainment space is getting really exciting. Initially, it was dominated by radio. In the last 10 years, audio remains still dominant, with other audio services such as Deezer, Radioline, Radioplayer, and Spotify, some of which we’ve successfully integrated into the In-Vehicle Infotainment (IVI) systems for some of the major auto brands. The next step that we’re working with the car OEMs on is bringing video streaming to the party, for passengers in the rear at any time and those in the front when the car is stationary, such as when an electric vehicle is charging.

Read any car review and you can tell how important the IVI experience is these days. If you need further evidence, the PwC Digital Auto Report 2020, reported that 63% of US drivers rated in-car entertainment as one of the car’s most important features. With IVI now a key factor in the buying decision, it’s critical that OEMs offer car users access to the content they want. At ACCESS, we’re making sure that this happens by working with the world’s leading media and entertainment organizations to ensure that a wide range of content is available to the car OEMs and the Tier-1s through the car-centric App Store that we have built into our IVI solution, ACCESS Twine™ for Car.

The car is a different environment to the living room, but consumers don’t completely change their behavior because they’re in a car. All over the world consumers want both global and as importantly their local content heroes and they want it in their own language.

It’s also important to cater for every age group. We’re already doing this, for instance, you may have noticed our recent announcements with Kidomi, the super app for kids, and N-Dream, a gaming app that’s perfect in the car. It’s our task to work with global and local brands so that OEMs deploying our Twine4Car app store can meet their customers infotainment needs in every territory that they sell their cars.

As car ownership models change and the move to electric powertrains flatten the differences between brands and models, it’s increasingly clear that controlling the IVI experience and owning the data it generates is critical to all OEMs. We at Access enable car OEMs to meet this challenge through our technology and a global network of leading media and entertainment partners. If you’d like to know more, please get in touch.

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