While we sit around wondering when self-driving cars will begin ferrying us to work (and question the morals of automated vehicles), car companies are busy building "infotainment" systems for our old fashioned human-guided sedans and SUVs. It almost seems counterintuitive: the more complex and capable our in-car entertainment systems become, the more distracting they'll be for drivers. But that won't stop competition from heating up around the dashboard.
Wired writes that infotainment competition will come down to proprietary vs. open source, as the popular Windows Embedded and QNX face increased competition from Linux-based car operating systems. So far, only a single Linux operating system has gotten big publicity for powering a car in Cadillac's 2013 XTS. But that's going to change: Automotive Grade Linux Work Group and Genivi are two organizations pushing new Linux operating systems, and they're backed by big names like Nissan, Toyota, BMW, Honda, GM, Intel and Nvidia.
Open source offers extreme diversity and the potential for rapid software updating, something the automotive industry has struggled with since basic car computers evolved into complex entertainment and navigation systems. Cars can now run apps just like smartphones, but they don't see software updates at the pace consumers expect from mobile devices. In fact, they often don't see software updates at all. And while that might be appealing to some drivers--who really wants to mess with downloading firmware updates for a car?--they'll eventually be necessary and positive. As car OS complexity grows, so will the need for bug fixes and performance improvements. Tesla's already ahead of the curve, delivering over-the-air software updates for the Model S, which is fitting for Motor Trend's top car of the year.
Open source will allow automakers to keep their systems up-to-date without relying on a corporation like Microsoft. But Microsoft's Embedded platform has its own advantages, like Microsoft's support and a long history of reliability. Still, to stay ahead of open source, Microsoft will have to up its game with more frequent updates that stay in step with the rapid pace of smartphone development.
The divide between open and proprietary software may not be as interesting as the functionality infotainment systems begin to integrate. Will we see dramatically better voice control that allows drivers to keep their eyes on the road? Will these infotainment systems actually be able to make us better drivers, or just keep us abreast of our Facebook feeds?