While it may seem like Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) face a stark choice between Linux/QNX based infotainment systems of their own design and one-size-fits-all, Android-based infotainment systems courtesy of Google’s Android Automotive product, a growing number of Tier 2 suppliers are rapidly equipping OEM customers with the capacity to customize and differentiate within an Android-based infotainment system.
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In a tough period for new vehicle sales, automotive Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) are finding that their legacy avenues for differentiation are becoming increasingly irrelevant in the context of connected and autonomous vehicles. Historically, OEMs have differentiated and competed in two key respects: the first was within the Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) powertrain and chassis, endeavoring to build a mechanical driving sensation that was more refined than competitors’, and the second was in regard to the cost of ownership, delivering a certain level of mechanical refinement and comfort at an overall lower cost. However, with ICEs being supplanted by electric powertrains, and consumer attitudes toward car ownership rapidly evolving, OEMs will increasingly find that their greatest scope for differentiation lies in the digital domain.
However, as previous ABI Insight Android Automotive Finds Fertile Soil in Mass Market Brands (IN-5620) discussed, OEMs are finally yielding to the potent Android Automotive offering from Google. For first movers, there is considerable advantage, enabling OEMs to bring to market inexpensive models featuring a digital experience that can run rings around those on offer in the most premium models. While this will certainly help boost sales and gain market share in the short term, it comes at the long-term expense of control over the primary avenue for differentiation in a future of connected and autonomous vehicles. Therefore, OEMs seem to face a choice between maintaining control of a Linux or QNX-based infotainment system and ceding control to Google in order to offer an Android-powered digital experience. However, a number of Tier 2 software developers are now offering product and services that will enable OEMs to have their cake and eat it too, bringing customization, differentiation, and OEM branding to the Android Automotive OS system.
A good example of this trend is the recently launched Cinemo CARS suite of Android media applications, which uses Cinemo’s robust middleware offering to enable new use cases on top of the basic Android offering. Automotive-grade considerations include the ability to enable playback of numerous file formats, including streaming and cloud content services; robust sharing and synchronized playback of video and audio on multiple seats and screens, including rear-seat or Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) devices; and intelligent caching of streaming content to ensure uninterrupted playback in less than ideal signal coverage conditions. Premium OEMs in particular are determined that the media experience delivered by their vehicles should be consistent with what is, for most people, their second most expensive purchase. Cinemo’s CARS applications will also offer additional features above and beyond the baseline Android Automotive capabilities, including Cinemo Projection Plus, which allows content on brought-in devices to be mirrored onto any number of embedded displays and other BYOD devices, enabling content to be shared between passengers. By making the Cinemo CARS suite of applications available near production ready, OEM customers will be able to either deploy as-is with minimal or no Human Machine Interface (HMI) customization, or develop a more customized and branded feel to their applications.
Cinemo, like many automotive Tier 2 software partners, can therefore support its existing customer base in making the transition from legacy Linux or QNX OS-based infotainment systems to Android Automotive, giving scope for customization between and within brands as well as an opportunity to gain additional revenues post sale via the Google Play application framework and store.
Supporting Automotive Android Ambitions
Cinemo’s move into the Android Automotive space holds a number of lessons for digital cockpit Tier 2 software developers looking to maintain or grow their market presence as the OEM customer base pivots towards Android-based infotainment systems. In particular, Tier 2 software developers must consider the objectives and requirements of OEMs adopting Android Automotive:
- Differentiation between Brands: The biggest fear for OEMs’ Android Automotive adoption is commoditization. In much the same way that Personal Computers (PCs) in the 1990s were only valued by consumers for their support for the Windows OS and services, OEMs fear that their vehicles could become commoditized boxes on wheels—so long as it supports the Android OS and services, who cares whether it is a Buick or a BMW? Providing applications with scope for differentiation in both look and feel and functionality gives OEMs confidence that they can build a branded digital experience within the context of Android Automotive. By providing near production ready applications, Tier 2 software developers like Cinemo can capture a wide range of OEM business, from OEMs with well-resourced software development teams to those with only minimal resources for shallow HMI differentiation.
- Differentiation within the Brand: Historically, OEMs have sought to deliver greater comfort and mechanical refinement on flagship models to differentiate from their entry level models. With digital experiences playing such a pivotal role, OEMs want to be able to offer a graduated experience across their line-up. As OEMs pivot to operate a single hardware platform, customized Android applications give OEMs the ability to differentiate between models at a software level. For example, OEMs could offer the basic Android Automotive on their entry-level models, introducing new software features via automotive-grade applications on more premium models to distinguish them from the remainder of the line-up
- After-Sales Revenue: The above applications can also be made available to the OEM’s consumers via an app store after purchase, potentially offering the OEM some after-sales revenue.
Overall, experience and competence with embedded Android development lags behind that of Linux, particularly in the automotive space. Therefore, Tier 2 vendors with such experience are well-placed to support OEMs transitioning to the Android Automotive solution.