With few exceptions, the product talk around the upcoming MeeGo mobile operating system has highly-focused on netbooks and cell phones, and understandably so. Intel’s legacy contribution to the joint effort, Moblin, was designed for the former while Nokia’s equivalent, Maemo, has been the foundation for the latter.
Less discussed is the opportunity in automobiles… but it’s definitely part of the picture.
When computers first found their way into cars, it was in the form of electronic management of combustion control, braking and other mechanical functions. Flaky at first due to the extreme environmental conditions and the immaturity of the industry, these systems are now taken for granted.
The next frontier is in-vehicle entertainment, guidance and other passenger-oriented activities. None of these are particularly new in parts, but what is fairly novel outside the realm of science fiction is a truly integrated infotainment experience incorporated into the vehicle.
a non-profit industry alliance committed to driving the broad adoption of an In-Vehicle Infotainment (IVI) reference platform. GENIVI will accomplish this by aligning requirements, delivering reference implementations, offering certification programs and fostering a vibrant open source IVI community. Our work will result in shortened development cycles, quicker time-to-market, and reduced costs for companies developing IVI equipment and software.
Nokia has demonstrated IVI concepts of its own in the past (Ford Mustang, Renault Twingo), but these have been more proof-of-concept than anything for actual production. More recently, the announcement of Nokia Terminal Mode for smartphone-car interfacing looks immediately practical. Interestingly, Nokia is partnering on this with another GENIVI member, car stereo manufacturer Alpine. At this time I don’t have information if this ties into GENIVI at all.
From a practical standpoint, Intel has the lead here based on its embedded systems work described above. But Nokia’s expertise in mobile communications will be highly critical in making this venture work. In other words, this pairing looks more ideal all the time.
Nokia’s dalliance with N800s in a Mustang can’t touch what Microsoft has done with Ford via SYNC. This popular solution has expanded its range beyond Microsoft’s own products to even include iPhone support. However, with it being a closed system I can’t see SYNC coming close to the potential that GENIVI offers, especially given that latter’s membership (more below).
Some time back I envisioned an internet tablet ecosystem where Nokia’s “connecting people” mantra truly manifested. I imagined (with something like the N800 in mind) a web-enabled touchscreen device that would be my companion throughout the day, in various use cases: sitting on my desk autopaging through an electronic photo album, firing off an alarm to wake me, informing me of appointments for the day, guiding my vehicle to those appointments, alerting me to items and events of interest as I navigated, and serving up detailed information on and around my destinations as I walked that final distance to them. For those unwilling to live with the bulk of an N800, I pictured the tablet staying in the car but seamlessly handing off its accumulated info to a cell phone of choice to serve in that last mile.
I can see IVI enabling the automotive aspect of this scenario, and then some. Automobiles stand to finally fulfill fantastic visions dating back decades. This goes beyond the usual items of infotainment, too– with these systems in place, semi-automated vehicle driving gets a great deal closer to reality.
But as rich an experience as we are poised to receive, there will come some pitfalls. Already cell phones are being increasingly targetted as devices of dangerous distraction in automotive mishaps. More and more municipalities in the US alone are passing laws and regulations geared toward discouraging “driving and dialing”. When our cars truly become our home away from home, as advents like GENIVI will enable, sticky legal issues will likely increase. It will be up to the solution providers to not only follow relevant laws but also act responsibly in general while adding to the mobile infotainment experience.
MeeGo’s open source nature vis-a-vis netbooks and cell phones is one thing; to pull off an open source automotive infotainment paradigm is something on another scale entirely. If someone had suggested such a thing to me a few years ago I would have scoffed… but reading through the list of GENIVI Alliance members (which includes not only industry giants Intel, Nokia and Alpine but also Garmin, GM, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Navteq, Pioneer, Peugot, Renault and more) leads me to believe Microsoft will soon be facing more than it can handle in this space.
In automotive parlance, GENIVI has traction, and MeeGo is the vehicle that will provide the spark. Developers, get on now or get left behind!