Monday, September 24, 2012

MirrorLink misunderstood: 8 myths that need busting

If you're new to MirrorLink, it's a technology that bridges the mobile phone and the car. It allows specially written apps running on the phone to be displayed on the car's head unit, where the user can interact with them.

MirrorLink is intended to extend the life of in-vehicle systems by allowing them to interact with mobile content and to support new features that didn’t exist when the car rolled off the assembly line.

Here's an illustration of how it works:

MirrorLink in-car communication. The protocol between the head unit and the phone can run over several transports, including USB, Bluetooth, or Wi-Fi. This example assumes Bluetooth for the audio back-channel.

When I talk to people in the automotive and mobile industries, I find they share a number of common misconceptions about MirrorLink, which I’d like to clear up. So let's get started, shall we?

  1. MirrorLink is an Android technology. In fact, MirrorLink works with multiple mobile platforms. Phones using Android can support it, but so can phones from any other phone maker that supports the standard. Even Apple phones could support it, though Apple has currently chosen to go their own route with Apple-specific solutions.

  2. MirrorLink allows any mobile app to run in the car. This is incorrect. A MirrorLink app can run in the car only if the car maker grants “trust” to that app. Each car maker has a different concept of what brands to promote, what features are safe, or what works well with each car. So, in reality, each app will be enabled depending on the individual make — or even model — of car.

  3. MirrorLink promotes “driver distracting” apps. Also incorrect. MirrorLink is an enabling technology that doesn’t promote any type of app in particular. In fact, because the car maker must grant trust to an app, the app developer can't control what apps run in the car. That responsibility remains the domain of car makers, who tend to avoid anything that will cause distraction when displayed on a front-seat screen.

  4. MirrorLink is the only way to connect an app to the car. There are in fact two others: iPod Out and HTML5. Apple supports iPod Out for Apple devices, which allows selected applications to output analog video to the head unit. (Note that the new iPhone 5 doesn’t support iPod Out.) HTML5 also allows mobile apps to run in the head unit, though its use in car-to-phone bridging is still in the early stages. QNX Software Systems has demonstrated concept vehicles that use BlackBerry Bridge (an HTML5-based technology) to connect an HTML5 app on a BlackBerry phone to the car’s head unit.

  5. Mobile app makers will benefit most from MirrorLink. In fact, car makers may end up taking best advantage of the technology. That’s because they can use MirrorLink to customize and create apps, and to refresh those apps as a way of delivering fresh, new functions to their customers. MirrorLink gives them the ability to do this using a standardized protocol supported by most mobile platforms. Car makers could use MirrorLink very effectively, even if they never allowed any third party apps into their cars.

  6. HTML5 and MirrorLink are incompatible. Not necessarily true. Current versions of MirrorLink use the VNC protocol to exchange graphical data. None of the advantages of HTML5 would be incompatible with a future version of MirrorLink; in fact, some members of the Connected Car Consortium (CCC), including QNX Software Systems, would likely be interested in merging these two standards. That would result in a new version of MirrorLink that uses HTML5 as the underlying communication protocol. (The MirrorLink specification is controlled by the Car Connectivity Consortium, of which QNX is a member.)

    Even if MirrorLink does go to HTML5, the industry would still need a VNC-based form of MirrorLink. VNC has much lighter requirements on the head-unit side, so it makes more sense than HTML5 if the car doesn’t have a high-powered CPU or lots of memory. The broadest possible option would be to have phone apps support multiple versions of MirrorLink (today's version with VNC plus a future version with HTML5) and to use whichever one makes sense, depending on what the car supports.

  7. MirrorLink obviates the need for car-downloadable apps. Yes, MirrorLink capability is somewhat similar in purpose to downloading apps into the car; they both extend the functionality of the car after it leaves the factory. Because the customer’s phone will almost certainly be newer than the car’s electronics, it will have a faster CPU, giving the raw speed advantage to a MirrorLink app on the mobile. The MirrorLink app will also have guaranteed data access since the hosting phone will always have a data pipe — something that isn't certain on the car side of the equation.

    On the other hand, MirrorLink doesn’t give an app access to car features that would available to a car-downloaded app — features such as vehicle bus access, telematics features, or the navigation system. Also, a car-downloaded app would likely have a faster HMI than any off-board app, even if the mobile had a faster CPU, because of latencies inherent to screen replication. The car-downloaded app would also have better visual integration, as it could take full advantage of the car features, instead of appearing as a bolt-on product. Other factors, based on automaker control, compatibility, or product roadmaps could also favor an in-car solution. Even if you could address some of these issues, there would still be enough reasons for MirrorLink and an auto app store to live side-by-side.

  8. MirrorLink apps can be built today. This is technically true. But, in their enthusiasm, new converts can sometimes forget that cars need to support MirrorLink for anything to actually work. Currently, only aftermarket car stereos support MirrorLink; no production vehicles support it. So if you’re a mobile app developer, the market for MirrorLink apps today is negligible. But expect this situation to improve dramatically over the next two to three years as production vehicles start to ship with this capability built-in.


  1. Regarding (8), the Toyota iQ has a MirrorLink display. I was really confused about (2), thanks for the info.

    1. Thanks Christa--good to know Toyota is leading the pack!

  2. Interesting insights into Mirror Link. But I would like to get your insight on two more aspects:
    1- Can mirror link be a downloadable software for phones? If not, we will have to wait until enough phones in the market come pre-installed with Mirror Link.
    2- Phones have different screen sizes, resolutions, graphic processor capabilities, etc. The experience could vary a lot from phone to phone. Who makes sure that a certain minimum quality standard is fulfilled, irrespective whether I have a 5", 6.5", 7", 8", 10.1", 12" screen in my car?

    1. 1) MirrorLink can be downloadable. The user interface framework needs to provide the hooks to allow it, and if it doesn't it would require a software update of the phone OS. But if the right hooks are in place, you can link the appropriate MirrorLink libs to your app directly.
      2) I don't know who would make sure there's a minimum quality standard, but that's an excellent question. Normally I think this would be the auto maker who cares the most and has the most to lose. Of course, the car makers aren't building the experience for the phone apps, which is why they have a "go/no-go" decision on the apps that they let into their vehicles.
      - Andy

  3. This is so cool,it makes it so much easier if say you want to do something on your phone and cant multitask.Any way can it be installed in any vehicle model,because i just love it and want it.

  4. Thanks for sharing this!

    For #4: From what I've understood the iPhone 5 does support iPod Out, it's that Apple's Lightning to 30-pin adepter does not. If the integration into the car head unit is a USB slot the Lightening cable shipped with the phone will work. For when that's not the case, Pioneer (and possibly others) have developed adaptors that let's iPod Out through. That said, the fact that Apple's adapter does not support iPod Out probably is a hint to where that tech is going...

    About #7: it does seem that MirrorLink apps can get access to the car GPS. I saw a demo of Nokia Car Mode which supposedly uses that.

    But actually I was about to ask you what the uptake is on MirrorLink today? (Exactly a year from when you posted it as it happens.) Any cars shipping with this built in yet?

  5. I am seriously considering the purchase of a 2014 Volvo XC60 with Sensus Connected Touch which apparently has MirrorLink, but even the dealer doesn't seem to know whether or not it will actually mirror the screen of my Samsung Galaxy Note 2 (using the Samsung "Link" app) so I can use the Verizon Navigation. If will all work together, this configuration seems to be a cost savings over paying for on-board car navy?

    So any updates or actual user experiences would be helpful.

  6. Hi JBK. We can't provide guidance on which MirrorLink-enabled systems will work with which phones. That said, would your dealer let you try pairing the phone?
    - Paul L.

  7. No, sorry if I was misunderstood - I wasn't fishing for recommendations. Just wanted to ask about others' experiences. Tomorrow I am going to a large metro-Atlanta dealership and experiment with my phone (on the list as compatible) and the ONLY vehicle they have on the lot with the MirrorLink-enabled system.

    Real problem appears to me to be that we customers know more about what this technology is supposed to do than the salesmen do. However I think if I were a car salesman, I would want to explain to the customer how these systems are a real value added option.


  8. I am having trouble connecting Pioneer SPH-DA210 (MirrorLink 1.0) with HTC One M8 KitKat 4.4.4 (MirrorLink 1.1). Both Devices are listed by CCC as compatible. When I connect phone it recognizes MirrorLink connection, but headunit doesn't. Connection is made using factory USB cable from HTC. Does anyone know if there is something special in Pioneer 30$ cable set?

  9. Is there something special in connecting cables for USB connection between two devices? I am failing connecting Pioneer SPH-DA210 (MirrorLink 1.0 according to CCC) with HTC One M8 KitKat 4.4.4 (MirrorLink 1.1 according to CCC). Phone recognizes connection, but headunit doesn't. I am finding number of videos where people are successful with Alpine or Sony headunits and this phone. In all such cases headunit is listed by CCC as MirrorLink 1.0. This is not car manufacturer related. Any idea?

  10. Valeric, I'll ask a couple of colleagues who may have more technical insight into this, but your best bet is probably to reach out to Panasonic.

    - Paul

  11. Sorry but I'm disgusted in how the head unit manufacturers have treated Mirrorlink and sold us functionality that's outdated before it hit the stores.

    Pioneer refuses to upgrade the AppRadio range of head units so my six month old car stereo is junk. Mirrorlink 1.1 should have been backward compatible and now I have a very expensive FM radio in my car. Cheers Pioneer.

    A lack of direction from the Mirrorlink consortium has only fuelled this. My Galaxy S6 edge can't even connect in Pioneers app radio mode so it really is a pile of trash.

    Zero firmware updates from Pioneer for their overpriced aftermarket units but they DID manage to update the Peugeot 108 from Mirrorlink 1.0 to 1.1 ... where is our update so we don't have to use a Galaxy S3 from three years ago?

    I hope Android Auto finally puts the nail in the coffin for Mirrorlink. It was a great idea but everyone blames everyone else when incompatibilities arise.

    Pioneers official response was to buy a 2015 head unit to get Mirrorlink 1.1 after I spent £350 only six months ago on a device they chose not to update as they didn't want to.

  12. mirrorlink use likes app or technology,bcaz i am confuse..plz tell me how it work?

  13. There are some good explanations online; try googling it and/or visiting

    - Paul

  14. Apologies to everyone, but we are no longer publishing comments on this (pretty old) post - Paul