News: MirrorLink™ - Bridging the gap between Vehicles and Smartphones
- Monday 9th July, 2012
MirrorLink is a new term in the mobile electronics industry we are starting to hear more and more about. But what is it? How does it work? Let’s take a closer look.
In a recent US study by J.D. Power on Auto Quality, for the first time in its 26-year history it was found that the infotainment / navigation system was the biggest source of problems in new cars – not engines, transmissions or other mechanical or vehicle-related issues. We, the consumer, expect more today from our driving experience than simply getting from A to B. It wasn’t long ago when the market didn’t expect or even understand digital media in a vehicle but perhaps thanks in a large way to the global marketing efforts of Apple, access to hundreds or even thousands of songs is now seen as a necessity, along with other technologies including Bluetooth and GPS Navigation.
For many years the aftermarket industry led the way for features and technology with in-car electronics. You purchased a new (or second-hand) car and then generally looked at upgrading the head unit or other components based on your personal requirements. As the global market became more competitive and car manufacturers started looking for the edge over their competition, for the first time we saw original equipment including all the same functionality and features as could be purchased in aftermarket products.
In the meantime, the humble mobile phone evolved into a “smartphone” in the hands of an estimated 87% of the world’s population. Two differing platforms, the phone and the vehicle, sharing many common technologies but evolving on their own paths simultaneously.
Manufacturers’ (both OE and aftermarket) answer to this was the ability to “plug-in”, and later, wirelessly connect via Bluetooth your smartphone to the vehicle or head-unit allowing access and control of your music library. This was welcomed by consumers the world over and quickly became a genuine purchasing criteria for new cars or aftermarket products. Being an intelligent race however, we’ve now got an application on our phones for everything, from checking the weather, news and finance, banking, navigation, listening to and even creating music and so much more. How do we integrate and gain access to those daily tasks from our vehicle?
The year of the true crossover between our smartphone and our vehicle has finally arrived in 2012. The financial crisis of a few years back on a global scale saw the research and development from many manufacturers, particularly in the aftermarket arena, effectively grind to a halt. Now in the aftermath R&D is in full swing and in many ways progressing faster than ever. The resources, skills and knowledge in the ranks of the larger manufacturers within the industry is truly awe-inspiring. However, what if those resources became a collective and an organisation defined common platforms, communication protocols and created a global standard in which the link between the human and machine was defined? Exciting prospect isn’t it?
In February of 2011, the Car Connectivity Consortium (CCC) was founded. The CCC is an independent organisation dedicated to developing global standards for smartphone in-car connectivity, and now boasts over 66 members including the world’s leading automotive, mobile communications, and consumer electronics companies. At the time of writing, some of these members include Sony, Clarion, JVC Kenwood, Fujitsu Ten, Alpine, as well as GM, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Mercedes Benz, Toyota, Volkswagen, Fiat, Ford, Renault and Mitsubishi, including phone manufacturers HTC, LG Electronics, Nokia, Panasonic, Samsung, Motorola and Sony Ericsson. One notable brand unsurprisingly absent from this list of members is obviously Apple, who themselves are rumoured to be developing their own devices, technology and platforms in conjunction with OE manufacturers. We’ll report more on those developments as official information becomes available.
The standard created collectively by CCC and its members is ‘MirrorLink’. MirrorLink (previously known as Terminal Mode) offers seamless connectivity between a smartphone and a car’s entertainment system simply by connecting a cable to their phone. MirrorLink is a technology standard that allows a consumer to access their phone using the same controls they use for accessing the car radio, climate control, and navigation systems. MirrorLink is based on a set of well established, non-proprietary technologies. It uses standard internet technologies (such as Internet Protocol) for compatibility with a wide range of devices. It also
builds upon technology already common in the car, such as Bluetooth and USB, and newly introduced in later model vehicles, Wi-Fi as well as Universal Plug and Play (UPnP). Virtual Network Computing (VNC) is used to replicate the phone’s display on the head unit’s display and communicate user inputs back to the phone. In addition to the already common Bluetooth streaming, audio can also be streamed using the Real-Time protocol (RTP). Any PC power user would be familiar with many of these protocols which have been common-place for many years.
In order for devices and applications to be MirrorLink approved, manufacturers must submit their products and applications to CCC for standardised testing and approval. This ensures a high quality of service and operation and consumers can be assured of trouble-free compatibility of apps and hardware by the time they become available on the market.
The CCC’s members now include over 70% of the worldwide market share in vehicles and over 60% of the worldwide market share in smartphones. This alone tells us that MirrorLink is truly destined to be the new standard in car audio and in-car electronics.
We’re only just starting to see examples of the applications that will be available under the “MirrorLink” accreditation and the possibilities are truly exciting. Given the strict testing and approval process for MirrorLink, and their strong safety focus and criteria, it’s almost certain that we won’t have the ability to play Angry Birds while cruising at 100kmh. On the upside, we’ll have future-proof apps updated from the cloud (handy for those navigation map updates), have our emails read to us by the vehicle while navigating through the streets of Australia and stream music from internet radio stations all over the world. Add to that potentially being able to tap into the vehicle’s on-board diagnostics and telemetry, and the possibilities are truly endless.
As the world rapidly grasps the cloud concept, it makes perfect sense that car audio and mobile electronics user-interfaces become simple slaves to our smartphone devices and are opened up to a whole world of news, data and information. I’m trying to block out thoughts of the 80’s blockbuster Jumpin’ Jack Flash and the little green man downloading himself into our head unit for a look around, but I am sure MirrorLink has security protocols built-in to combat that as well.
At the time of writing, Sony's line-up in their new AV range of head units are the only products with MirrorLink capability.
Stay tuned to Mobile Electronics Australia as we begin to explore the individual applications and products with MirrorLink accreditation and functionality as they become available.