Another Fork in the Road

W3C Launches a Competing Connected Car Effort

W3C_lThe interior of the connected vehicle is becoming a crowded and competitive space. Several competing standardisation bodies and closed groups are working to bring device-optimised connectivity inside the car. There’s a plethora of overlapping specs, operating systems and connectivity options.

This week, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) — the main standardisation organisation developing Web specifications — launched the Automotive Working Group to bring HTML into the car. It would enable more Web-like interfaces on screens and provide hooks into vehicle sensor data and in-car infotainment systems to allow HTML5 and JavaScript developers to create auto-specific apps.

The car has become a connectivity hotspot, churning up competing approaches — some reasonably open, some completely closed. Apple’s CarPlay, for example, is a road-optimised screen replication standard that allows the driver to access a USB-connected iOS device through the vehicle’s control system (which itself runs an operating system such as BlackBerry’s QNX). CarPlay provides access to iOS apps and services including Siri, messaging, telephony, music and navigation through the car’s hardware.

In a similar fashion, Google’s Android Auto projects an Android device to the in-car display, providing the user with big touch buttons and a voice-controlled interface. Vehicle manufacturers can support several specs within the same car, so one model can access Android and iOS devices. However, Google is pushing Android deeper into the industry by developing a version of the operating system specifically for cars through the Open Automotive Alliance, an organisation with broad auto industry participation. Success could see Android’s influence spread across another key domain.

The growing support of Android Auto and CarPlay doesn’t necessarily preclude the specs of the W3C’s Automotive Working Group from being adopted by manufacturers, in-car infotainment makers or operating system providers. An HTML interface is a natural evolution for W3C in the age of connected things, and well-established Web development specs would support developers’ and users’ current knowledge.

The race for telematic influence spreads across several industries. Car makers offer embedded and non-commoditised systems like BMW’s ConnectedDrive, Chevy’s MyLink and Ford’s Sync, but the interface is becoming a safe version of an accompanying smart device. It’s delivering apps, navigation, services and connectivity to the car. The Automotive Working Group currently has two corporate members. This is likely to change, but W3C needs support from manufacturers, developers and service providers. HTML5 could drive significant change in the car experience, but the organisation needs to kick it up a gear.