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November 9, 2016updated 14 Nov 2016 11:27am

As Google rolls out Android Auto, who will drive the connected car software market?

Connected car software could come from smartphone makers, developers or the automakers themselves.

By Alexander Sword

Connected car software is still in its infancy, but a current spate of interest from technology companies and traditional automakers may provide some hints about the direction it could take.

Google has announced that Android Auto, its interface for connecting a user’s smartphone with their car, is available in a wider range of vehicles.

Normally, the app syncs with the car’s infotainment system so that Android apps can be displayed on any compatible in-car display. The integration with the car system allows users to carry out useful but potentially distracting functions such as get directions, make calls, send and receive messages and listen to music.

However, this update means that the app can be run from the screen, so the device can simply be plugged into a mounted display on the car and the interface can be used from the smartphone screen.

Android Auto, and Apple’s similar Apple CarPlay, shows how device-makers are approaching the market from their direction, pushing smartphone apps out to take over user’s vehicles as well as their devices.

However, from the other direction, automakers are also rolling out their own software to enable drivers of their vehicles.

BlackBerry recently signed an agreement with Ford to use BlackBerry’s QNX and security software in its vehicles. The QNX embedded operating system is currently used in over 60 million vehicles and allows applications for vehicles to be built on it. This can include hands-free controls and multimedia capabilities.

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This was a new type of deal for BlackBerry, which typically deals with Tier 1 companies: the suppliers to the likes of Ford.

But according to John Wall, Head of QNX, this indicates the direction that auto brands like Ford may take in the future.

“Software is becoming such an important part of the experience in a vehicle,” he told CBR. “Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs)’ software is becoming as important as the physical components.

“The OEMs will have a much stronger say and a much larger control in developing the software that goes in the car.”

android-auto-2By designing their own software, rather than buying it through a supplier, the auto-makers can build in active safety functions they need.

For example, recently, Tesla issued an update to its autonomous driving software that it claimed would have prevented a fatality that happened in May. A 40-year-old died on a Florida highway while using the Autopilot, which features various systems such as Autosteer and Auto Lane Change.

Version 8 of the software will make more prominent use of radar to process signals from the car’s surroundings. Until the update the radar had been used as an auxiliary sensor to the vehicles’ main cameras.

Radar was initially added to Tesla vehicles in October 2014 as part of the Autopilot hardware suite, but through the software update the whole system could be rebuilt around it.

Jaguar is another automaker that exercises a high degree of control of the components in its vehicles, using the Autologic technology

This seems like a win-win scenario. The consumer is able to continue using the same product and gain new functionality without having to buy a newer model. For the manufacturer, it protects the investment made in developing and bringing a product to market.

However, it is not just this kind of update that appeals to automakers. In fact, companies such as Tesla, Google and Apple are driving some of the urgency in automakers to enhance the software in their vehicles.

Whoever’s software ends up powering the cars of the future, the opportunity is clear. According to PwC, digital and connected services could be worth 24 percent of automotive industry revenue and 36 percent of profits by 2020.

There will be interest from all parties, but for developers and companies that work out how to address the market the connected car software ecosystem could be a big earner.

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