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MirrorLink opens the door to more auto and device integration

By Evan Wade / October 18, 2013

Cars and smart devices seem to add similar capabilities all the time, which makes the lack of interplay between the auto and mobile industries a little perplexing. That may change soon if plans from the recent Car Connectivity Consortium (CCC) Summit come to fruition. According to a recent report, the group plans to release a technology called MirrorLink that allows phones to stream content to in-car entertainment systems.

Though the auto industry has warmed up to smart devices, implementation has largely been on the car manufacturers’ terms. With MirrorLink, the CCC will give developers the opportunity to put their work in vehicles and aftermarket accessories without having to partner with auto makers. The CCC itself has a membership base that includes almost 70% of the automotive industry, as well as a number of aftermarket manufacturers, so this represents a big opportunity.

Connected at last: smart devices and cars

In-car infotainment systems are all the rage, but a relatively small number of them have included smart devices in their proprietary plans. This is a misstep MirrorLink has the potential to fix by taking the decision out of the industry’s hands, according to Android authority Ajay Pall. “The big hurdle is the auto manufacturers and their processes for incorporating innovation,” said Pall. “Developers want to mobilize, but they aren’t able to.”

Android’s openness makes it the most-likely OS when it comes to cracking the car industry and working with MirrorLink. Android developer Elliott Chenger noted that “Android allows for great communication between apps,” a strength that “could be wielded in an automotive OS to streamline interaction with content.” Its open nature also makes it easier to create software capable of interfacing with MirrorLink without sacrificing performance or features on the native touch screen.

The players make the game

Android engineer Brian Tsai said the CCC’s release of MirrorLink is a huge step in the right direction, but it won’t be the only factor determining the success of car and smartphone convergence. “I think what will actually tip the scale is the involvement of Google or Apple,” Tsai said. “Without the leadership, endorsement and marketing clout of these companies, car manufacturers and developers will likely continue to lay on the sidelines.”

While Tsai’s statements ring true, it’s hard not to root for a future where car and smart device manufacturers put their heads together. Chenger says the first major developments, should the MirrorLink initiative succeed, would come in the form of “creature comforts,” such as applications that allow users to transition between an in-home and in-car wireless stereo system without any hassle.

Software that monitors the car’s status (like tire pressure and oil level) and displays relevant info on the dash screen could follow. “There are obviously myriad ways that mobile can help the automotive industry,” he says. “Those are just a few of them.”

A natural connection

In the end, the convergence of smart devices and vehicles makes sense. While some cars that do “smart” things are readily available, Tsai said that “we’re still far from having the ‘best friend’ relationship [with them] the way Michael Knight had with his Firebird KITT [in the TV series Knight Rider].” With MirrorLink making it that much easier to give our smartphones and tablets a lift, it’s only a matter of time before we’re all on a first name basis with our cars.