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Smartphone Impact Seen On In-Car Systems

EL SEGUNDO, 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.

Smartphones 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 smartphones, 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 smartphone 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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