In the auto industry, and especially in the design of in-vehicle infotainment systems, the advent of the smart phone has changed everything. Car buyers now expect automakers to keep up with the frantic pace of development maintained by consumer electronics, and in particular the ever-increasing library of apps and services available on smart phones. Specifically, they expect their in-vehicle infotainment systems to integrate seamlessly with their smart phones and, increasingly, to access the cloud.
Automakers must attempt to meet these consumer expectations. Consumers won’t settle for a radio and CD player because automakers might find it costly to deliver more current systems. (Electronics now represent almost one-third of a vehicle’s cost, and in-vehicle infotainment systems account for a substantial share of that cost.)
However, on the positive side of the balance sheet, the shift in what consumers expect of their infotainment systems over the last decade has provided automakers opportunities to sell up and generate some new revenues. Buyers are willing to pay a premium—within limits—for increasingly sophisticated systems.
Happily, it appears that the same solution that will help automakers keep up with the frantic development pace of smart phones and applications will also help them build in-vehicle infotainment systems and perhaps even reduce the cost of delivering these systems.
The Shift To HTML5
HTML5 is a non-proprietary and widely adopted standard that is already proving its worth in a wide range of implementations across a variety of industries, including automotive. If anything can help automakers deliver what their customers want in their in-vehicle infotainment systems at reasonable cost today and tomorrow, it’s HTML5.
In the IDC report “The Web on Smartphones: Trends in Usage and Technology,” John Delaney notes that “the app and browser experiences will merge over time,” considering that the app store model may be a transitional phase that will merge with the browser model.1 In fact, that process is already well underway.
Content providers have begun turning to HTML5 to create Web-based pseudo-apps to replace the apps store model pioneered by Apple. These pseudo-apps are simply Web entry points to an application hosted in the cloud. Once users download the interface, there is nothing more for them to do. Upgrades are handled on the content provider’s servers. It is unlikely that apps stores will shut down their servers anytime soon, but major content providers are already migrating away from the app store model and back to the Web—a new Web powered by HTML5.
This shift to HTML5 for the delivery of Web-based contents is just the tip of the iceberg. HTML5 is not just a better way of delivering Web content. It is a much better way of delivering all content, regardless of source and delivery platform: smart phone, tablet, laptop or desktop, or in-vehicle infortainment system.
This is why automakers and in-vehicle infotainment designers care about HTML5. It will help them deliver the content and capabilities their car buyers want and will want in the future; keep up with the frantic delivery pace of consumer devices, applications, and services; manage the costs of delivering in their vehicles the capabilities and content consumers now expect; and capitalize on new opportunities for building brand differentiation and loyalty. This answer leads, of course, to the question—how will HTML5 do all this?
How Will HTML5 Work?
No one owns these standards, so there is no vendor lock-in and, hence, no single point of failure. An event like Adobe’s recent dropping of support for mobile device Flash plug-ins—a decision directly attributable to the ascendency of HTML5—will not affect HTML5. Further, more and more significant players are building important stakes in the success of this standard.
The HTML5 ecosystem is now the largest ecosystem out there, both in terms of current development and of talent doing the development and the tools they use. Altogether, HTML5 provides a rich application environment that can be used with other human-machine interface (HMI) technologies (OpenGL ES, Flash, native, etc.), given the appropriate underlying operating system (OS) or graphics assist.
With HTML5, automakers and in-vehicle infotainment designers have a set of standards that has already gained wide adoption and is quickly becoming ubiquitous. There is no risk that HTML5 will suddenly disappear. In fact, key modules are already available and driving HTML5’s adoption, but the complete standard is not expected to be fully satisfied for at least a few more years.
Editors of the standard have taken a long view and have planned the development of HTML5 with the idea that it will be around for a long time and that throughout its life it will be ready to embrace new technologies in automotive and many other industries as they become available. Because HTML5 is already proving its worth in a wide range of implementations, expect the big players in automotive infotainment to announce that they are going to HTML5. It’s already happening.