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Global IT giants gear up for smart car competition

Automobiles are becoming smarter and safer with the help of information technology

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Published : 2014-03-12 20:37
Updated : 2014-03-12 20:37

Global IT firms including Apple, Google and Samsung Electronics are gearing up to gain an upper hand in the burgeoning smart car market by increasing collaboration with traditional car manufacturers.

Most recently, Apple unveiled CarPlay, a car infotainment operating system that integrates with iPhone features, including phone calls, messaging, and navigation while a car is in motion, at the Geneva International Motor Show in the Swiss city.

CarPlay, based on touch and voice controls, will be installed in six car brands including Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo and Hyundai this year.

Apple will also bring the system to future models of other auto companies such as BMW Group, General Motors and Ford down the road.

The California-based tech firm said CarPlay will not compromise the safety of drivers as the iPhone’s voice control function Siri will keep drivers’ eyes free for the road and reduce distractions stemming from fiddling with buttons on devices.

“IPhone users always want their content at their fingertips and CarPlay lets drivers use their iPhone in the car with minimized distraction,” said Greg Joswiak, vice president of iPhone and iOS product marketing.

Google was the first to stoke competition among global IT companies in the smart car business as it started test driving fully autonomous cars in 2010.

Currently, the company is butting heads with Apple in the smartphone operating system market.

As of March 2013, Google said that its automated cars, some of which are built based on Toyota’s Prius, had driven for about 800,000 kilometers accident-free. Google’s self-driving cars are equipped with radar, sensors and cameras that monitor the road, detect obstacles, activate brake systems and find the vehicle’s location.

The Internet giant allied with global car makers including Audi, GM, Honda and Hyundai, called the Open Automotive Alliance, at the International CES trade show in January to bring its Android smartphone OS to cars.

Google and Audi together showcased an infotainment system running on the OS at the electronics trade show.

Experts and market researchers are forecasting that the OS market for smart cars will grow exponentially.

“The market for automotive infotainment operating systems represents a major opportunity for software vendors, with platform sales climbing to nearly 130 million units in 2020 ― about the size of the global PC market in 1999,” Egil Juliussen, research director for IHS Automotive, said in a report.

“Growth is being driven by the multiplicity of platforms in many cars, with a single auto potentially having one OS for the head unit and navigation, another for the telematics system and hands-free interface for mobile phones, and yet another for the rear-seat entertainment system,” Juliussen added.

Convergence between IT and car technologies is more and more sought after mainly due to rising consumer demands for safer and smarter vehicles.

“A car used to be just a commodity. However, it is now a part of people’s lifestyles,” said Lee Myung-hoon, an analyst at HMC Investment and Securities.

“Therefore, safety and convenience are the second- and third- biggest factors that influence the purchase decision of consumers following fuel efficiency,” said Lee quoting the global automotive executive survey 2014 report published by KPMG International, a global market research group.

New growth momentum

Not to be outdone by other global tech firms, Korean smartphone makers Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics have been trying to make a foray into the world’s car infotainment market as well.

Samsung, the world’s largest handset brand, is now looking for new driving forces for growth after smartphones and showcased a car management application that links its Galaxy Gear smart watch with BMW’s i3 electric car.

With the smart watch, the driver can check the battery charge status and whether all the doors and windows are closed or not.

The wearable device also sends destination information to the car and recognizes the user’s voice commands.

The Korean tech giant is also expected to supply its Drive Link application available on the Galaxy S5 to BMW and Volkswagen to up the ante against rival Apple in the automotive market.

Drive Link, an upgraded version of its predecessor previously featured on the Galaxy S3, can be linked to cars and enables drivers to use smartphone features such as music, navigation and phone calls.

The application also reads text messages out loud.

Samsung’s local rival LG Electronics has also been running departments working on car infotainment systems and parts.

LG Electronics spent 310 billion won ($288 million) to build a research and development center for vehicle components in Incheon.

The campus is a control tower of other affiliates’ auto businesses including LG Innotek’s auto motors, LG Chem’s auto batteries, LG CNS’ charging solution and LG Hausys’ automotive materials.

LG Electronics vice chairman Koo Bon-joon has been hinting at his willingness to breed the smart car business into new cash cow projects.

“We should make preparations for automotive components as cars are fast becoming smarter,” he said at the International CES 2014, after viewing the smart car technologies displayed at the event.

By Kim Young-won (wone0102@heraldcorp.com)

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