As presented by Tero Koivu, Rightware COO, at Car HMI USA, November 16, 2020
Android has made strong inroads into the automotive industry with a dedicated operating system (OS) variant called Android Automotive. As a growing number of automakers have announced plans to introduce infotainment systems powered by Android Automotive, significant questions about their ability to differentiate the user experience (UX) arise.
The 2020 Polestar 2 is the first production vehicle to use Android Automotive for its center infotainment screen. Android Automotive also will be offered in Audi and General Motors vehicles in 2021. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance have also shared plans to leverage Android Automotive in their vehicles.
Android is poised to play an important role in the automotive market. It presents a tempting option as a key building block for many OEMs due its inherent advantages as a well-established platform with a broad application ecosystem and a vast developer community. However, it is challenging to integrate Android into a multi-screen digital cockpit and create a seamless user experience true to the OEM brand.
The Android ecosystem is changing how UIs are developed
Android has undeniable benefits, including a mature operating system, broad availability of apps and services, compatibility across hardware platforms, and a large developer community.
“Android Automotive provides a solid technology foundation right out of the box,” Koivu said, referring to connectivity, media frameworks, security, OS updates, and more. With all these existing capabilities, “HMI developers can spend their time building better products and user experiences, rather than focusing on low-level system functionality,” according to Koivu.
In addition to benefitting from ready-made features, OEMs can leverage the vast Android ecosystem. Applications designed for smartphones or tablets can easily be repurposed and reused, simplifying the introduction of new services for the end user.
Another aspect of Android which serves to accelerate innovation is platform compatibility. The same operating system runs on a variety of consumer devices. Thus, HMI developers can even use a standard Android tablet to begin generating ideas and prototyping the UI, which “can later be adapted to the target automotive platform,” Koivu said. “This makes it faster to try out ideas, test the UX, and uncover issues early in the design process to help reach a final design sooner” than they otherwise would.
Furthermore, Koivu notes there are more than six million developers for Android. This provides automakers and suppliers with a large talent pool to help them create the intended user experience.
Finally, integrating Android Automotive into the automotive UX can lead to unforeseen opportunities. Koivu believes automakers have the potential to create entirely new business models. By deploying new applications and services that deliver real, tangible benefits, OEMs can increase revenues and customer loyalty while possibly tapping into user and vehicle data to gain more insight and deliver even better services.
Android is not without challenges for designers
While Android Automotive delivers clear benefits, its seamless integration into the automotive UX can be challenging.
It is tempting to draw parallels to smartphones or tablets when basing an in-vehicle infotainment system on Android. As more digital screens populate the dashboard, an easy assumption is that consumers expect a “smartphone-like” UX in the car.
However, cars are not smartphones. With a phone, users are focused on the screen rather than their surroundings. In fact, many smartphone apps are specifically designed to compete for the user’s attention.
Designing user interfaces for cars is different. Vehicle HMIs should require minimal attention from the driver, reducing distraction and creating a safer driving experience. That’s a difficult task, especially with a growing set of automotive HMI use cases, from the car (controls, information, and driving modes) to media (music, entertainment, and audio books) to communications (phone, messages, and calendar) and even to completely new, future-looking use cases (ADAS, autonomous driving, voice…).
Android Automotive provides a starting point for design and development of a user interface. “But if you want to create something really stunning and truly unique, you’re still a long way from reaching your target,” Koivu said.
Selecting the right tools for HMI development is critical. Android Studio is a great tool for app development on Android and offers a very programmer-oriented workflow. But Android Studio has its limitations, namely that it is 2D-focused, leaning towards material-design type of visualization, and it is by nature not intended for cross-OS development.
Meeting automaker’s high expectations
Screen space is valuable real estate in today’s vehicles, so it is understandable that automakers have high expectations for the HMI. Automakers want to deliver an experience that is a central part of their vehicles’ brand identity. Therefore, customization beyond the native OS look-and-feel is critical. Furthermore, OEMs want rich graphics comparable to modern game engines, scalability across hardware platforms and operating systems, and reusability across different makes and models.
Koivu agrees that meeting these requirements is a tall order, but says it is attainable. “Let’s not forget you need to integrate other displays in the vehicle, as well,” said Koivu. While the Android framework supports in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) screens, other screens, such as the instrument cluster and head-up display, are likely managed by other operating systems.
Kanzi Reference HMI: Seamless Android integration for future automotive UX
Rightware’s state-of-the-art Kanzi Reference HMI is a highly efficient way to begin Android Automotive cockpit development. This solution combines the Kanzi user interface software product family with reference applications and services for an effortless way to attain ready-made essential automotive HMI functionality in one package. Easy customization, rapid innovation, and creative brand differentiation become possible with production-proven tooling, a modular architecture, and reference applications, services, and assets.
The Kanzi Reference HMI seamlessly integrates Android into a multi-OS, multi-display digital cockpit. The resulting HMI delivers all the benefits of the Android ecosystem without sacrifice. Leveraging Kanzi UI and Kanzi Connect, the Kanzi Reference HMI allows automakers to achieve the best possible UX, including high-end graphics, an interactive Android home screen, an animated car menu incorporating a high-quality 3D vehicle model, a “signature” OEM-branded app launcher, and seamless sharing of media and navigation information across all screens.
The real proof is in the final outcome, which Koivu says the Kanzi Reference HMI ultimately delivers: “A unique user experience true to the automaker’s brand.”
We will be delivering a follow-up webinar hosted by Car HMI on February 11, 2021, to provide an in-depth, hands-on look at the Kanzi Reference HMI. Sign up here to be informed when the registration link becomes available.