Automotive infotainment systems in 2010 are entering their fourth generation of evolution, a phase in which the capabilities of the hardware are unlimited because they allow consumers to customize their own experience, according to iSuppli Corp. Global revenue from shipments of automotive infotainment systems is set to rise to $37 billion in 2016, up from $30.8 billion in 2010.
“Infotainment hardware has undergone a rapid evolution during the last 13 years, moving from the traditional approach of dedicated hardware blocks, to the advent of bus-connected distributed architecture systems in the 2000 time frame, to the highly-integrated navigation-centric systems of 2006, to the new user-defined systems of today,” said Richard Robinson, principal analyst for automotive infotainment at iSuppli.
“With the launch of the fourth-generation design in 2010, a new architectural philosophy in infotainment is born,” Robinson added. “This represents the first industry-wide platform design that has been launched without a limit to the features and functions that can be added by the consumer after the purchase of the vehicle, using links to external devices like smart phones and personal media players.”
Advances in silicon technology mean that the fourth-generation architecture can launch with a feature set that is not pre-defined on the production line. The consumer-driven approach of the fourth-generation design represents a dramatic departure from the previous approach to infotainment, where the capabilities of the hardware were defined by the automotive engineers.
During the first generation of infotainment design covering the period up to 1997, design architecture was considered very simple and straightforward if compared to the more modern systems of today, with the design itself made up of highly dedicated hardware blocks typically consisting of an AM/FM tuner, CD or cassette player.
From around 1998, the market saw the launch of the second generation of infotainment design with the birth of distributed-architecture, which began its life in Europe during the 2000/2001 time frame. This second-generation distributed design was characterized by the launch of high-speed multimedia digital buses, such as the Media Oriented System Transport (MOST), introduced to provide a dedicated high-speed digital BUS link between separate black-box ECUs and the headunit. Second-generation architectures also saw the launch of navigation ECUs, and later, of satellite radio, phone and CD changer ECUs.
Get on the bus
Some vehicle OEMs used the features of this expanding ecosystem as their way of adding value to the user experience, which up to that point had been difficult to achieve on the relatively simple first-generation architectures. Indeed, OEMs were looking for differentiation in the market, and cost clearly became a significant differentiator.
However, because of the introduction of a “network” of black boxes in hardware, the significant market changes in infotainment were occurring at the top end of the market, with second-generation design concerned with the development of systems to serve the premium vehicle segment, typically sitting on a high-speed digital bus architecture such as MOST.
The headunit fights back
With the launch of third-generation designs in 2006, the market rejected this top-heavy, distributed hardware architecture, mainly to achieve a reduction in the price per system. In third-generation architectures, vehicle OEMs see navigation and multi-channel audio as their opportunity to add value to the system. Critically, however, the capabilities of the semiconductors that were coming to market around this time made it possible to integrate features back into the central headunit.
This meant that it was possible to bring support for amplifiers, digital radio, media and phones back into the headunit, resulting in less hardware linking fewer nodes and ultimately leading to lower costs per system.
A new slice of cake?
With the launch of fourth-generation architecture, the important question facing the supply chain is: Does the total available market for Tier 1 suppliers and semi suppliers grow, shrink, or stay the same? In other words, is the same size, or revenue, of cake simply being cut into smaller slices? What, then, was previously a €2,500 dedicated navigation system on a generation 2 or generation 3 architecture, has actually become a €1,500 comprehensive infotainment system — with the display as the focal point.
In fourth-generation design, the role and responsibility of the OEM and the consumer has changed dramatically, and OEMs have finally admitted that it is not possible for them to keep up with the demands of the consumer device space unless they define a line of development that they themselves will not cross.
More information: iSuppli’s Automotive Infotainment Components & Devices