2014: The year connected cars roared into adolescence


It has been a big year for connected cars. Automakers, handset vendors, app developers and aftermarket CE manufacturers have graduated from a primary education in the best ways to support car and smartphone connectivity. There is now a solid outline of what the future body of connected driving will look like.

As the anatomy fills out, we have learned some critical lessons. Most importantly, smartphones are without question the brain of the connected car organism. They have the processing power, ease-of-upgrade and diversity of apps that consumers have proven critical functions for connected driving.

Apps are the arms and fingers, allowing us to reach forward and dial up the information or experience we want at any particular moment. And if cars function as legs, propelling us to our final destination, then it is the connectivity protocol that functions as the beating heart, the one muscle with the power to deliver rich, oxygenated fuel to the various parts of the body that keep car connectivity healthy, growing and ready to compete.

Three connectivity protocols emerge

Apple CarPlay came onstage after much anticipation. After all, for years we had all sorts of geeky trinkets to connect our iPhones to our dashboards and bypass our tedious car radios. In fact it is not long ago that the 3.5 mm input jack was the Holy Grail of car connectivity. At the time, this was a delight, but the range of daily annoyances (lack of battery charging, having to navigate apps via the device itself) made this phase more like the terrible twos and threes of car connectivity’s toddlerhood.

However, CarPlay makes signature services like Siri controllable from the dashboard, making music, navigation and text messaging accessible via voice commands. CarPlay also presents apps on the navigation screen in a way that makes them safer to use while driving. On the CarPlay web page, Apple says the service will be available in many of the world’s most popular cars. We hope it is sooner, rather than later.

Android Auto is another method of pumping blood into the rapidly developing connected-car body, but, like Apple, it struggles to get blood all the way down to its automaker legs.

Similarly to CarPlay, Android Auto makes popular apps controllable from the dashboard and adapts functionality for driving. Google’s Open Automotive Alliance is a global partnership of technology and automotive leaders working to bring Android to cars, but actual deployments have been sparse.

Reaching maturity

The third player, and the most mature, is the MirrorLink standard for car/smartphone connectivity. Created by members of the Car Connectivity Consortium (CCC), MirrorLink is a non-proprietary collaboration between more than 80% of automakers and more than 70% of smartphone vendors, all of whom share a vision of any smartphone working with any car to deliver the same simple and responsible interface.

To that end, there are now more than 500 MirrorLink-enabled products on the market, represented in millions of MirrorLink-enabled cars and tens of millions of MirrorLink-enabled smartphones in use today.

Moreover, MirrorLink is the only OS- and OEM-agnostic standard for car-smartphone connectivity and the only vendor-neutral standard where no single entity has a controlling stake. Looking with fresh eyes on our connected-car anatomy, we would be hard pressed to survive with a heart that is partial to certain parts of our bodies. In evolutionary terms, there would be little advantage.

High-school extracurriculars: a time to try it all

If car connectivity is our favorite gawky teenager, we should observe the testing of new disciplines with relish. As consumers, we should feel free to test drive all of the above protocols and evaluate their suitability to our lifestyles.

Over the next few years, the industry will closely watch for preferred methods of connectivity, and before we know it, the strongest will set out in the world as a fully-fledged adult. One thing is for sure: our kids have good parents.

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