Connected cars are the next mobile frontier, and BlackBerry has a head start

Blackberry QNX Car Entertainment and Telematics

I attended the annual BlackBerry conference this week, and had a nice chat with the folks that make their QNX operating system. In case you don’t remember, BlackBerry acquired QNX back in 2010 and went on to use the software in its ill-fated PlayBook tablet, and new phones. Interestingly enough, it also ended up in cars.

Over the last few years, QNX has been slowly displacing Windows CE to become the dominant platform in connected cars. There are a number of reasons for this shift, but the biggest seems to be that car makers apparently don’t want to run Windows 8 embedded in their cars. This promises an interesting future, because the QNX developers understand that the future is highly mobile, and that bringing the desktop experience to a mobile platform is pretty much a non-starter. BlackBerry is also making some strong progress with its phones, and since QNX is a distributed OS (anybody can license it from BlackBerry), this could lead to a very different in-car-entertainment experience in future automobiles.

It’s all about integration

The future of integration is a near seamless connection between your smartphone and your car. It’s being able run applications off your phone on your car screen, streaming music using your phone’s 4G connection and playing it on your car stereo, and even controlling your phone with your car. You can glimpse it today in products like Aha Radio, but only in the few cars and after-market systems that support it, like Subaru’s BRZ. You can configure your phone to feed your car HD audio, and once you start the car, you easily move from listening to music on your phone’s speaker or headset to listening to the same track in your car with all controls active (like steering wheel volume, skip, etc.).

Today, you can have brand-new cars on the lot with entertainment systems that are over seven years old.

Take it a step further, and some phone apps today allow you to get information on your car’s performance and see virtual gages. Unfortunately, this capability requires a dongle that plugs into your car’s OBDII port – the small connector under your dash. In the future, this functionality will be more tightly integrated into your car, allowing you to replace most of your existing gauges with one display – maybe even your phone.

You’ll even be able to see what the car is doing if you aren’t driving it. For instance, imagine a future car alerting you that your child is driving in excess of the speed limit, or otherwise driving unsafely. Granted, you’ll be less excited if your spouse or insurance company gets this information about you, but the capability will be available regardless.

Always connected

Today, you need to drive to a dealership to update your car’s firmware, or to find out why the check engine light is on. An always-connected car will get software updates automatically, and you’ll know in real time when you have a significant problem under the hood. (Granted, I think the updates will come in at night while the car is parked, because none of us want that “shutting down in 10 minutes” experience while we are rushing to work in the morning.)

Connected cars will balance in-home Wi-Fi connections with on-the-road cell connections to pull in both current information (updated traffic, critical problems) and off-line updates. For instance, you might set the car up to download the latest shows for your kids at night, because streaming video while driving would likely max out your data plan.

Aha Radio

This “always connected” experience could also translate to automatic alerts to 911, AAA or some other service if you have an accident, flat tire, or breakdown. By the time you pull over, the service could already be dispatched to your exact location, shortening your wait time significantly.

Your on-dash camera could capture interesting events as you drive and then dump those videos, along with virtual images of your gauges, to the cloud via Wi-Fi. You may want to turn off the microphone if you are particularly expressive when someone cuts your off, though, to avoid becoming an unexpected YouTube star.

More up-to-date and current

Unlike today’s cars, future connected cars should have the potential for a more modular approach to tech. This would allow dealers to keep new cars updated before they are sold, and for buyers to enjoy systems that are more current, at least for the three to five years they are likely to keep the new car. Today, you can have brand-new cars on the lot with entertainment systems that are over seven years old. A significant upgrade may have occurred during that model’s run, but the cars may have been manufactured up to 18 months earlier, and the hardware that goes in at assembly is likely much older than that. Nobody wants an out-of-date entertainment system, and used cars would also be more valuable if they could be easily updated.

Is Blackberry QNX the magic bullet?

Microsoft is having a tough time with operating systems this decade. It lost mobile to Android and iOS, and now appears to be losing automotive entertainment systems to BlackBerry. Both losses are connected to a Microsoft strategy that was too tied to the old desktop PC platform, and the fact that there are very few who want a desktop experience in their cars.

While these automotive solutions will work with a variety of phones, they should work best with BlackBerrys, which are also using the QNX OS, providing that company with an interesting strategic advantage. Within two years, I expect we’ll see the full strength of that advantage begin to emerge, and the end result will be a vastly improved user experience for car owners who also own BlackBerrys. It’s going to be a long two years, but I think I can now see a light at the end of the tunnel, and I’m pretty sure it isn’t a train this time.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

Product Review

It's not the sharpest tool, but the Surface Go does it all for $400

Microsoft has launched the $400 Surface Go to take on both the iPad and Chromebooks, all without compromising its core focus on productivity. Does it work as both a tablet and a PC?

Atomic-colored BlackBerry Key2 LE arrives just in time to bring holiday cheer

TCL teased that it would release two new BlackBerry phones with keyboards this year, and it has stayed true to its promise. The company announced its latest handset, the BlackBerry Key2 LE, at IFA 2018 in Berlin.
Smart Home

Is old-school Airstream finally embracing smart home technology?

Airstream's vintage-looking trailers have a huge audience but its 2019 Classic camping trailers are getting a modern upgrade with the addition of app-controlled smart home technology to bring modern convenience online.

Did that car just wink at you? Daimler previews car-to-pedestrian signals

Eager to show off progress with autonomous cars and perhaps do some consumer softening as well, Daimler and Bosch previewed car-to-pedestrian communications. A sensor-loaded Mercedes S appears to wink to acknowledge a pedestrian's presence.

Uber is about to restart self-driving car tests but on a reduced scale

Uber is reported to be on the verge of restarting its autonomous-car test program. The company halted it in March 2018 following a fatal accident involving one of its vehicles, but its cars could be back on the road within weeks.

Bosch is developing a Rosetta Stone for autonomous and connected cars

Bosch and start-up Veniam want to create a common language that autonomous and connected cars can use. The two firms have developed a connectivity unit that transcends the national boundaries of technology.

Aston Martin bets classic car owners will choose volts over carburetors

Aston Martin has converted one of its most sought-after classic models to run on electricity instead of gasoline. The roadster uses electric components sourced from the upcoming Rapide E sedan.

Volkswagen may be planning a tougher challenge for its all-electric I.D. R

The Volkswagen I.D. R electric race car may head to the Nürburgring in 2019 for a lap-record attempt, according to a new report. Volkswagen will reportedly aim to set the quickest lap time ever by an electric car.

600-hp, $155K Polestar 1 is the alluring Volvo coupe you’ve been waiting for

Volvo's return to the coupe segment just took an interesting turn: the model will join the Polestar lineup, and it will get a 600-hp plug-in hybrid powertrain. The Polestar 1 will be built in China starting in 2019.

The Aston Martin Vanquish Zagato Shooting Brake is the sexiest wagon ever

Aston Martin has revealed new photos of the limited-production Vanquish Zagato Shooting Brake. The Vanquish Zagato line now includes the Shooting Brake, Coupe, Volante, and Speedster, each with bespoke styling.

Nissan and Italdesign’s GT-R50 concept will become a $1.1 million reality

The Nissan GT-R50 is a customized sports car built to celebrate the 50th anniversaries of both the GT-R and design firm Italdesign. Underneath the sleek bodywork sits a 710-horsepower engine fortified with race car components.

Ford’s new Shelby GT500 Mustang will have 3D-printed brake parts

Ford's new $45 million Advanced Manufacturing Center will focus on emerging technologies, including 3D printing. One of the staff's first jobs is to print parts for the 700-horsepower Shelby GT500 Mustang.
Product Review

Audi built an electric SUV for buyers who want gasoline-free to mean stress-free

We finally got to spend time behind the wheel of the electric 2019 Audi E-Tron bustling cities and arid desert of the United Arab Emirates to see how it compares with Jaguar and Tesla's competitors.

Car-branded phones need to make a U-turn if they ever want to impress

Your car and your smartphone are becoming one, yet smartphones branded or co-created by car companies are a problem. We look at the history, some examples of the best and worst, then share hopes for the future.