iSuppli: Smartphone Impact Seen On In-Vehicle Systems

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El Segundeo, Calif. - Smartphones could influence the direction of vehicle-infotainment systems as much as they have affected the MP3 player, in-vehicle telephony and portable navigation device (PND) markets, iSuppli reported.

The potential influence of smartphone on infotainment systems comes from the phones' multitouch user interface and App Stores that sell third-party applications. "Together, these trends are enabling the smart phone to exert an increasing impact on multiple industries, including automotive infotainment," iSuppli said in a recent research report.

Smartphones and other types of cellphones have already led automakers to incorporate Bluetooth hands-free technology into their infotainment systems. Bluetooth is available as optional or standard equipment in 93 percent of model year 2010 vehicles in the U.S. and 75 percent of models in Western Europe, iSuppli said. Almost 100 percent of smartphones sold have Bluetooth features, and more than 80 percent of all mobile phones sold worldwide come with Bluetooth.

Smartphone have also become a leading source of digital music played through vehicle head units, mostly via USB interfaces, stereo Bluetooth, and iPod or auxiliary interfaces, iSuppli said.

Smartphones' impact on PNDs has also been strong, iSuppli said. The company cited the introduction one year ago of free navigation functions on the Android operating system, which in turn forced down the price of PNDs and caused PNDs to peak in importance. Worldwide PND sales are declining or projected to decline in most regions of the world in the years to come, iSuppli said.  As a result, "PND manufacturers are moving into the in-vehicle navigation segment with low-cost PND-based systems, which in turn is putting price pressure on the suppliers of traditional in-vehicle navigation systems," iSuppli said.

In the future, auto infotainment systems might adopt smartphone operating systems, primarily the Android OS but also the Genivi consortium's MeeGo platform for Nokia high-end smart phones, iSuppli said. A growing number of smartphone apps, the company also noted, are already focused on vehicle applications such as remote control of door locks, windows, air conditioning and remote starting.

Another coming smartphone influence on infotainment systems is Terminal Mode, a head unit-to-smartphone interface "that will render the smart phone display on the head-unit display," iSuppli explained.

A "long-term possibility" also exists for smartphones to become the "computing and communication platform portion" of head units, which would provide the Human-Machine Interface (HMI) for in-vehicle entertainment as well as interfaces to other vehicle systems. In this scenario, motorists would be able to use their preferred smartphone as their content source, lowering the price of an infotainment system price while making it possible to upgrade functionality when a better smartphone comes along. This scenario, however, might be adopted only for entry-level vehicles to keep new-car prices low, iSuppli noted.

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