If you're a typical car owner, or even an enthusiast, you probably don't know what QNX is--but you should. Or at the least, you should know about the company's work in the field of in-car technology, because chances are good you use it every day. In the near future, you'll use it to do new things with your car, and to customize the look and feel of the interface.
Andy Gryc is the product marketing manager at QNX, a company that has spent 33 years working in computer operating systems. What does that have to do with cars? Quite a lot, actually. We recently spent some time talking with Gryc to try to understand what's next in the world of in-car entertainment and information systems.
Everything you do with a modern car's infotainment system, including navigation, music, web access, even the basic options and features configuration menus--it's all computer-based. These embedded computers in our cars require operating systems (OS) to function; it's the way the software talks to the hardware--and that's where QNX CAR comes in. QNX builds the interface between the car and the hardware, and provides a platform for the carmakers to build an interface between you and your car.
In recent years, QNX has moved beyond the basic OS to include more of the "software stack," that is, more of the layers on top of the basic OS that make the whole apparatus tick. And if you own a Lexus with Entune, and Audi with MMI, a BMW with ConnectedDrive, or a General Motors vehicle with OnStar, you have QNX technology in your car.
Despite the shared underpinnings in the QNX-based systems, none of them really look or feel similar to each other--in fact, differences in features and ease of use of competing brands' infotainment systems may be the reason you chose an Audi over a BMW, or vice-versa. That's because of the "front end" work done by the manufacturer, building their interface with the car on top of the basis supplied by QNX. What you see, and how the infotainment system operates from a user's perspective has very little to do with QNX.
But it's QNX's product that enables this high degree of customizability, and, in the upcoming second-generation QNX CAR 2, the addition of HTML 5-based interface design will enable carmakers to make sweeping changes to the look and feel of your car's interface on the fly. You may even be able to tweak it yourself, selecting color themes, styles, and more. Gryc even sees a future where the control over look and feel could be "exposed to the customer--individual themes for husband, wife, son, etc."
While that might sound like a cool new degree of personalization for the techies among us, what do the less-hardcore have to gain from this?
In practice, the new CAR 2 system could also help to reduce the gap between the typical 1-2 year consumer electronics product cycle and the 7-10 year automotive product cycle. Seven years is an eon in the world of tablets, phones, and PCs.
How can a car's infotainment platform help to do this? By shortening the development cycle for apps, and relieving the burden of creating specific apps for each brand of car infotainment system. As Gryc puts it, "HTML 5 could be used to target all phone platforms. It makes it easier to move mobile apps to the car."