Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Car Connectivity Consortium (CCC) MirrorLink meeting, Chicago, September 29, 2011

For those who aren't yet reset on "MirrorLink", it's the new term for what previously was called TerminalMode.  The name change is a definite improvement.  I informally polled people to ask them what they though when they first heard "Terminal Mode".  Basically the answers fell into two camps: either a telnet replacement or a disease you really don't want your doctor saying that you have. Neither sound like a real ringing endorsement!  MirrorLink as a term makes sense.  Good job CCC.

Here are some of my observations and notes from the CCC show in Chicago last week.

  • MirrorLink will not be going away any time soon--there is enough industry momentum to keep it alive for a while.  Sounds like roughly 60% of the car makers and 60% of the mobile makers are behind it to some extent or another.
  • QNX is very bullish on HTML5 as a replacement for MirrorLink-like features, but it doesn’t look like HTML5 is part of the future MirrorLink strategy at all.  Instead, they’re looking at HDMI or MDL—direct video from the mobile with a control channel.  This is a generic replacement for iPod out, and it's an approach that we've considered as well and will likely support, so this is a good alignment at least in direct video technology. Even though they don't see the wisdom of the HTML5 path yet (patience--they'll get there :-).
  • OEMs don’t seem to realize how badly this will impact their revenue chain or are taking the "cross your fingers" approach.  Certainly many seemed to be focused solely on the value MirrorLink provides by enabling customers and building new markets.  I think it's somewhat Pollyanna-ish to not admit MirrorLink has the potential to completely decimate in-vehicle navigation uptake.  If I can bring my phone in for navigation for a half-way decent experience with a built-in screen, who's going to spend $3000 on a nav-only solution? 
  • MirrorLink isn’t as focused as much on enabling third party apps (although they did talk about it), but more about mirroring custom-built phone apps into the car.  Everything that was demoed in the demo room breakout was a customized app that provided an integrated experience.  This is both bad and good.  Bad because it definitely reduces the short-term promise of opening up a huge third party ecosystem.  Good because I think it's the only reasonable way to go--there's really no other way OEMs can justify the liability of phone apps within the car, unless they can have some measure of control.
  •  I still think that there's a significant amount of work they need to address safety concerns around driver distraction. MirrorLink the specification, and the general CCC communications contains "driver-safe" messaging.  However, my take is that the actual participation level people, especially on the mobile side seem to discount their accountability when you bring third party apps into the car, and nothing in the specification really makes it possible for an automotive outsider to make a car-safe app.  I highly doubt this approach will fly. The application level certification that is planned for a future MirrorLink 1.1 release seems almost a mandatory requirement before this issue can be put to bed.
Proposed app certification process
  • Interestingly, almost every car company I talked to had a different take on how MirrorLink will impact their strategy—some see it as a low-end only play, but others see it as a high-end play.  There's still a lot of confusion as to where it slots into product lines.  I didn’t talk to anyone there who isn’t going to do it at all (not surprising given that the show was completely MirrorLink-focused), but some didn't seem to put a lot of weight behind it.  The perception I had was that some were doing it to "keep up with the Joneses."
  • I give the CCC credit for realizing that MirrorLink has a lot of danger for the fragmentation whirlpool that has plagued Android releases and that makes Bluetooth interop the biggest nightmare for those who implement it and test it.  To that end, they're really trying to take this one head-on. It's still very early days to see if they will be successful, with the first MirrorLink 1.0.1 systems coming out in production.  (Alpine's aftermarket ICS-X8 earns that "first to market" distinction.) I hold out hope that CCC can keep MirrorLink interop from becoming a quagmire, but this is a bugger of a problem to fix in an area that tries to tie "slow-moving" car tech with the mobile space, so keep your eyes peeled...

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