MirrorLink supporters tout framework for in-car apps

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The Car Connectivity Consortium (CCC) envisions having a broad portfolio of applications as the key to connected-car dominance and is currently racing to build a developer community to support MirrorLink, which the group calls the open industry standard for Smartphone-Car integration.

"It benefits all if we can have one standard everyone implements," said Mika Rytkonen, CCC chairman and president. "Smartphone connectivity solutions are standardized everywhere except in cars. There are lots of proprietary solutions so this is an issue for a global offering."

MirrorLink is designed to enable a driver to control a nearby smartphone from the steering wheel or via dashboard buttons and screens. Rytkonen said a 2013 CCC goal is to enable MirrorLink for all key mobile OS platforms, thus encouraging developers to create MirrorLink applications and boosting consumer adoption.

In a recent consumer survey, nearly 60 percent of UK respondents said they want Internet access in the car, while 50 percent of U.S. respondents agreed. Further, about 40 percent of respondents in both countries said they would be willing to pay for in-car connected services, said Jack Bergquist, senior analyst, automotive and transport group, at IMS Research, which was recently acquired by IHS.

Yet in order to offer Internet connectivity without distracting drivers, a special user-experience design is required, with applications designed specifically for in-car use. Designing, testing and certifying those apps will be a complex undertaking. "The CCC is evidence that industry is taking this distracting driver thing seriously," said Rytkonen.

Rytkonen is also the director, industry operations, location and commerce, at Nokia, which originally created MirrorLink technology. In March 2011, the vendor launched the CCC with 10 other companies interested in making MirrorLink the dominant global connected-car platform. As of December 2012, the group had 78 members, but Nokia's influence at the CCC is still quite strong. In September 2012, 14-year Nokia veteran Alan Ewing was named CCC executive director.

Notable absences
The CCC's membership represents 80 percent of the the global market share in the automotive industry and 70 percent market share in the smartphone industry. One obvious gap in the CCC's membership is mobile operators.

So far, Japan's KDDI is the CCC's the single operator member. In contrast, the European Union-funded webinos effort to develop an open-source platform for applications that will operate across mobile, PC, home media and in-car devices involves 30 project partners, including Deutsche Telekom, Telecom Italia and Telefonica.

CCC UI Guidelines & Application Certification
Source: Car Connectivity Consortium

"We need to start this dialog with operators," said Rytkonen. The CCC intends to have a big presence at the 2013 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona "convince the carriers' business development people that CCC is the right choice for them," he added.

On Nov. 29, the CCC announced that more than 40 products are now MirrorLink-certified.  "CCC certification is not governed by any one big corporation, and that is very healthy," said Rytkonen.

Applications ahead
At the CCC Summit, held Nov. 7-8 in Tokyo, the CCC announced it will open the MirrorLink standard to mobile application developers starting in the first quarter of 2013.

When the group releases MirrorLink version 1.0.1, it will come with a revised set of certification guidelines aimed at streamlining the process of creating and approving apps with drive-mode functionality that conforms to Auto Alliance guidelines for minimal driver distraction. The CCC has promise that during the first six months of 2013, it will engage in a staged delivery of its application certification system.

The group also plans to release in early 2013 its Open MirrorLink 1.0.x specification, which will be available for a download fee of $150. It will only be available to CCC members or non-members willing to sign a trademark agreement—priced at $14,000 for non-members--in order to make a product and use the MirrorLink trademark. The group has not decided yet whether to offer another open spec after 1.0.x is released.

The CCC is also investing 1.6 million-1.8 million euros in an applications management system that will be used to set up the applications certification program

The CCC Application Management System
Source: 
Car Connectivity Consortium

"Our mission is to establish an ecosystem of smartphone applications for use in cars where applications developers have a central and transparent set of requirements and processes to follow," said Yoshiyuki Kakihara of Sony's automotive business.

There will be two levels of certification in the program: base level and drive level, he said. In the smartphone app universe, the biggest set includes all apps in the market. A subset of that includes apps that work on MirrorLink (base level), while a smaller subset encompasses those apps which offer low driver distraction and are save while a car is in motion (drive level).

Marketplace realities
Growth in the connected-car industry is being catalyzed in Europe by the eCall initiative, designed to deliver rapid assistance to motorists after a collision. The European Parliament in July passed a resolution calling for the eCall system to be installed into every new vehicle by 2015.

But there is also consumer interest in bringing smartphone apps into the vehicle. An IHS survey asked consumers if they would like to have their smartphone apps and interface style on a larger screen in the car, and nearly 60 percent responded "yes," said Bergquist, noting that indicates "a really great opportunity" for MirrorLink.

He cautioned, however, that while there is strong consumer demand in general for connectivity in the car, 100 percent of the population is not interested, and a much smaller subset would be interested in paying for in-car apps. "We need to be realistic about where this market's going," Bergquist added.

"Navigation is clearly the No. 1 service in terms of in-car applications," said Bergquist, noting that so far "there is no killer app for automotive." The killer app will probably differ by region and country, he added.

However, most used and paid-for apps in consumer electronics devices--such as games and social media--are not suitable for the car. And safety concerns appear to present the biggest hurdles for MirrorLink's vision of an in-car application ecosystem.

MirrorLink's testing and certification rules for apps are admittedly thorny and could entail significant costs. Asked by an attendee at the CCC's Tokyo Summit how much it would cost to get an application MirrorLink certified, the CCC's Ewing could not provide a number because the testing process involves rigorous driver-distraction requirements and complex texting methodology.

"Our job is to make sure the cost is not prohibitive," said Ewing, noting that the CCC's overarching mission is to reduce the risk to drivers.