The future of apps in the car is fast consolidating: Apple is going with CarPlay; Google working on its Open Automotive Alliance; and a consortium of automakers and handset manufactures, including Nokia, LG, and Samsung, working under the MirrorLink banner.
While still appearing to offer its Sync software to automakers, Microsoft has joined the group offering support for MirrorLink, and showed off a demo of its beta implementation at its recent Build conference.
First spotted by The Verge over the weekend, Steve Teixeira, director of program management for the internet of things team in Microsoft's operating systems group, said that it made sense to move to an approach where phones worked over the top of in-vehicle-infotainment (IVI) systems, especially given the frequency of phones being replaced compared to the average life of a vehicle.
"The IVI knows more about your car than anything. So a brought-in-device like a phone can never usurp the value of the IVI because that's wired into your vehicle."
Teixeira said that the use of MirrorLink would be in addition to offering Sync, where Microsoft supplied the basis of an infotainment system to car vendors.
"A good chunk of cars on the road today actually run Windows CE or Windows Embedded Automotive," he said. "The way that folks have been doing this to date is using Embedded as sort of the core operating system kernel upon which they would build their own user experience"
"We didn't really have a point of view in the past on,what should we paint in the dashboard of the car."
Four issues needed to be addressed when building apps for cars, Teixeira said: The first was cognitive load, making sure that drivers need minimal brainpower to use the an app while driving; human factors, such as placement of the phone in the vehicle, different screen sizes, and international models needed addressing; input models, such as relying on voice for automotive use; and 'glanceability', being able to provide relevant digestible information in a short period of time.
"There's actually some research here that says that you really have about two seconds to take your eye off the road before the chances of something colossally bad happening go very high," he said. "So when you build user interface that is designed to sit in a moving car, it needs to be optimized for this less-than-2-second glanceability factor."
Given Nokia's support for MirrorLink, and Microsoft's purchase of Nokia, it should not come as any surprise that Microsoft is supporting initiatives that Nokia already had in motion on its Symbian line.
While Microsoft now has a foot firmly in both the Sync, and MirrorLink camps, I would hope that Redmond concentrates on the latter. It is far ahead of what Sync can offer, has more car makers on board, and allows Microsoft to focus on the higher levels of the stack rather than the lower parts of the system.
But it is a welcome turn of events that we have one standard that now works across multiple modern mobile phone operating systems and across multiple car manufacturers -- too often, standards follow the xkcd model.
Some would say that it is a long way from software engineering to journalism, others would correctly argue that it is a mere 10 metres according to the floor plan.During his first five years with CBS Interactive, Chris started his journalistic adventure in 2006 as the Editor of Builder AU after originally joining the company as a programmer.Leaving CBS Interactive in 2010 to follow his deep desire to study the snowdrifts and culinary delights of Canada, Chris based himself in Vancouver and paid for his new snowboarding and poutine cravings as a programmer for a lifestyle gaming startup.Chris returns to CBS in 2011 as the Editor of TechRepublic Australia determined to meld together his programming and journalistic tendencies once and for all.In his free time, Chris is often seen yelling at different operating systems for their own unique failures, avoiding the dreaded tech support calls from relatives, and conducting extensive studies of internets -- he claims he once read an entire one.