New technology is exciting, but like most exciting things it's also fraught with peril -- and that's doubly true for developers. Think of all the tsoris caused by the great VHS vs. Beta battles of the 1980s, or the far more recent Blu-ray vs. HD DVD war, both of which cost manufacturers billions of dollars and left consumers holding heaps of obsolete devices. The next great battleground is shaping up to be your car's dashboard, but a new consortium of automakers hopes to nip conflict in the bud by setting early standards, which could save headaches -- and lives -- down the road.

Here's the problem: automakers and app developers are building apps for cars, but the way in which drivers interact with those apps varies from model to model. For some, smartphones serve as an interface; for others, apps are loaded directly onto the telematics system. It's confusing, clunky, and very, very inefficient. The Car Connectivity Consortium thinks that consumers need a simple, consistent way to interact with apps in their vehicles, and they're pushing hard to make Terminal Mode the standard. The Consortium's founding members include a number of heavyweights like GM, Honda, Hyundai, Toyota, and Volkswagen.

WHAT'S TERMINAL MODE?

First glimpsed around the time of the 2010 Geneva Motor Show, the current iteration of Terminal Mode creates a link between a smartphone and a car's telematics system, replicating the phone's interface on the in-dash screen. Think of Terminal Mode like a mobile version of a website: sites that have been optimized for mobile devices (like this one) streamline the user experience for smaller screens. The bells and whistles you'd ordinarily find in the margin of a webpage are ditched, making navigation simpler and easier. Terminal Mode works similarly, weeding out apps that don't meet safety standards (most games, for example) and enlarging fonts to make things legible from the driver's seat.

PROS

If there's one thing we hate, it's inefficiency. Innovation is great, but to see dozens of teams working on competing app delivery systems that essentially offer the same features? That's frustrating. Why not give those brilliant minds a set of parameters in which to work, so they can focus their attention on things like building smarter, more intuitive apps to make driving safer, more fun, and more efficient?

We also like the idea of crafting a consistent, comprehensible interface for drivers, letting them know what's what, no matter what car they're driving. Consistency of driver experience -- just like the consistent placement of the gas pedal and brake pedal -- is great for safety.

Finally, Terminal Mode points to a future in which we might use smartphones instead of keys or fobs to open and start vehicles. That means one less thing to keep up with, which sounds great to us.

CONS

We applaud thoughtful integration of smartphone apps into telematics systems, but we have to wonder what the Consortium plans to do when there's no phone to interact with -- either because the driver uses a feature phone, an unsupported smartphone (e.g. Apple doesn't appear to be onboard with the project yet), or doesn't travel with a phone at all? Are they left without entertainment systems? Or do OEM satnav and stereo systems get standardized, too? In other words: Terminal Mode depends on the driver to bring a portion of the equipment herself, so what happens when that equipment's a no-show?

SIDE NOTE

Since Nokia is a founding member and major tech force behind Terminal Mode, and since Nokia is dumping its own Symbian operating system in favor of Windows, this could be a major boost to Windows mobile adoption. That's especially good for Windows, which is lagging far, far behind Apple, Android, and Blackberry in the mobile field.

For more info about the Terminal Mode and the Car Connectivity Consortium, check the videos and press release below. Now, if someone could standardize headlight and washer/wiper controls asap, we'd really, really appreciate it.

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New Car Connectivity Consortium aims to put in-vehicle infotainment into high gear

Published March 16, 2011

  • Cross industry initiative: Leading automotive mobile communications and consumer electronics companies join a new consortium for in-vehicle connectivity solutions in standards such as Terminal Mode, NFC and more.

Espoo, Finland - The Car Connectivity Consortium was launched today by eleven companies across several industries, driving global innovation for in-vehicle connectivity, including the "Terminal Mode" standard.

Founding members include vehicle manufacturers Daimler, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai Motor Company, Toyota, and Volkswagen; system suppliers Alpine and Panasonic; and consumer electronics makers LG Electronics, Nokia and Samsung.

With the Terminal Mode standard, the connection of high-performing mobile devices to vehicle-based systems opens up a host of new opportunities for business and a world of innovative applications for consumers. Mobile devices could be tightly connected with in-car systems such as digital displays, steering wheel buttons, rotary knobs and car audio systems. Consumers could use a mobile device via the car controls, as if the device and its apps were integrated into the car itself. Terminal Mode is built upon a set of established standards such as Internet Protocol, Universal Serial Bus and Bluetooth.

The Car Connectivity Consortium will focus on further developing the Terminal Mode standard, address certification and branding, and start looking at new promising opportunities for the automotive environment, including NFC and wireless charging. The Car Connectivity Consortium is an open alliance focusing on cross industry contribution. It is anticipated that further leading industry players will join over the coming weeks.

The Car Connectivity Consortium will release its first specification version within the next few months. Several consortium members are expected to present their first commercial products supporting the new standard later this year.

Quotes

"Integrating smartphones in vehicles gives drivers a seamless connected lifestyle experience," said Thilo Koslowski, Vice President Automotive at Gartner. "The automotive industry will benefit from automotive-grade integration solutions that provide robust plug-and-play device connectivity across various brands, hardware and software, while offering safe and differentiated user experiences."

"Vehicles are evolving to be a 'living space,' with cutting-edge technology applied. But the life-cycle of built-in car AV system is difficult to match with such fast moving trends and developments in CE/IT products. As we all recognize, the latest mobile devices are equipped with fast internet access, smart features, and more content. And as 'Car Connectivity' technology has now emerged, we clearly see the customers' demands to use the features in Vehicles. LGE expects that the Car Connectivity Consortium can lead future Automotive and IT convergence technology," Said SeungHoon Lee, Vice President, Convergence Lab. at LG Electronics CTO Division.

"Nokia, together with NAVTEQ, understands that people want to use their smartphones everywhere including in their cars," said Floris van de Klashorst, Director and Head of Nokia Automotive at Nokia. "The Car Connectivity Consortium now has the power to turn Terminal Mode into the global standard for the integration of smartphones into vehicles, bringing together the exciting and innovating worlds of mobile ecosystems and applications and with the automotive industry. The industry support we received through the members has been excellent and makes Terminal Mode a truly global effort."

"Due to the wide consumer acceptance of smartphone and apps, Samsung expects that the smartphone will be the dominant hub for in-vehicle infotainment and connectivity. We believe that the smartphone, when connected with an in-car device, will play an important role in providing users with multimedia experience in the vehicle, and that Terminal Mode will be one of the key enabling technologies," said Dokyun Kim, Director, Product Strategy Team at Samsung Mobile Division.

About the Car Connectivity Consortium

The Car Connectivity Consortium was founded under U.S. law as a limited liability corporation. Founding members are vehicle manufactures Daimler, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai Motor Company, Toyota, Volkswagen; system suppliers Alpine and Panasonic; and consumer electronics makers LG Electronics, Nokia and Samsung. The Car Connectivity Consortium is open for any industry member to join as a charter member, a core member or on one of two lower levels. For further information, please visit: http://www.terminalmode.org/en/agenda/consortium/.