By on March 18, 2011

With the proliferation of in-car connectivity systems like SYNC, MyLink, MyFordTouch, Blue&Me, etc, the ability of a car to play MP3s, read out text messages and update social media accounts has surpassed such traditional attributes as power, efficiency and handling for many car buyers. And though many of these OEM-branded systems are underpinned by identical software architectures from Microsoft or Garmin, they are taking an ever-more important place in the marketing of new cars. Differentiating these differentiators, then, takes a huge amount of development effort on the part of automakers and their suppliers, and the result is another electronic system with the potential to go out of date with the same speed as a cellular phone. Wouldn’t it be smarter to just create an open-standard connection between your phone and your car so that you don’t need to replace your car when its onboard connectivity electronics go out of date? That’s the goal of the Car Connectivity Consortium, which is aiming to explode the OEM-branded in-car connectivity model.

Daimler, GM, Honda, Hyundai, Toyota, and Volkswagen have signed onto the CCC as charter members, as have Alpine, Panasonic, LG, Samsung, and Nokia. The underlying technology is Nokia’s Terminal Mode, which essentially allows a car’s display unit to replicate the exact a cell phone’s user interface on a car’s graphical display. If you have an iPhone, your car’s head unit will display that interface through Terminal Mode’s combination of Bluetooth, internet protocol and USB systems. And because Terminal Mode is open-standard, it could (in theory) work with mobile devices from any manufacturer, although a number of brands have yet to sign on.

SeungHoon Lee, vice president of the Convergence Lab at LG Electronics CTO Division, tells CNet

Vehicles are evolving to be a ‘living space,’ with cutting-edge technology applied. But the life cycle of a built-in car AV system is difficult to match with such fast-moving trends and developments in CE/IT products.

But this isn’t just about keeping pace with technology, it’s about reclaiming the car as a transportation tool rather than a cell phone on wheels. Which is not to say that this standard is a cure for distracted driving… quite the contrary. No, the promise of this standard is more basic than that: it simply creates a logical division of labor. Cars are for driving, phones are for communicating. If society deems it safe to use both devices simultaneously, this standard will allow that. But it will also force car makers to stop seeing themselves as purveyors of “the connected lifestyle” and keep their focus on making cars as good as possible for the (still important) job they were built to do. You know, driving…

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24 Comments on “Will Nokia’s “Terminal Mode” Let Cars Be Cars Again?...”

  • avatar

    This is the best news I’ve heard all week (not saying much really). These car infomatics are becoming a Tower of Babel and this is an elegant solution. Let the smartphone developers handle the OS, and just mirror it in the car. BRILLIANT
    Ed your final paragraph is perceptive, hopefully it will be so…

    • 0 avatar

      I used to think having my car be able to connect to my iPhone4 would be the end all but suddenly, after buying, I realized, I don’t update my phone’s music enough to actually use it that way. I much prefer to use CDR’s for now. Eventually, I will switch over to a USB memory stick – which is probably the easiest method to update, but, if you also happen to have SIRIUS like I do (to listen to Opie&anthony) you probably wouldn’t need pre-recorded music at all. All those music channels available.

    • 0 avatar
      M 1

      Android phone -> Pandora -> Bluetooth -> Stereo

  • avatar

    Your right.
    All you need is a car stereo that has Bluetooth technology and a phone cradle for your “choice” of smart phone and you have instant in-car internet, nav, and app of your choice.
    What I don’t get is why would someone want to pay the usual 29.99 for home internet, another 29.99 for phone internet AND THEN.. have to pay for 4G internet again for your car. Especially when your phone will usually integrate so well with your car. If you look at the latest trend it is mounting these ipads right into the dash of the car thus simulating a NAV/smart car technology only you can then take it with you when you arrive at your destination.

    • 0 avatar

      Is the auto industry becoming just another ipod dock that takes you places?

    • 0 avatar

      I hope not. If I have to start avoiding cars because Apple has to spread it’s feces all over the place, and encourage people to conform (not so gently) I will not be happy. I don’t have an iPod, iPhone, iDeathray or whatever the smell they have on the market and do not plan on ever owning one.

    • 0 avatar

      BT doesn’t even cut the mustard for modern applications today, much less future applications.  If you’re cradling the mobile device, may as well have the cradle also be the interface.
      Is your identity that wrapped up in Apple hating that you’d avoid cars that have i-device integration?  That’s utterly rational.

    • 0 avatar

      Is your identity that wrapped up in Apple hating that you’d avoid cars that have i-device integration?  That’s utterly rational.”

      No, my identity is not wrapped up in Apple hating, but I’m tired of seeing everything Apple all the time. From people constantly picking up their iPhones and having their ears glued to the device to students in the few classes I have fiddling with their iPods. It would be nice to see some more players in the personal electronics market that have a saturation that could compete against Apple because, quite frankly, many people who own Apple seem too full of themselves for words. This is all my opinion, and opinions are like… </end side rant>

      Truth be told, my new car has the auxilliary port for an iPod, but I, personally, will never use it.

    • 0 avatar

      Really?  Because phrases like “Apple has to spread it’s feces all over the place,” “I don’t have an iPod, iPhone, iDeathray or whatever the smell” don’t really speak to your rationality on the subject matter.

      You complain about the ubiquity of Apple products then go on to complain about the pomposity of Apple users.  Maybe your problem has more to do with people in general and less to do with the products of a particular company?

    • 0 avatar

      Signal –

      Trust me I get it. All I can say is I’ve had a bad week and sometimes things just fly out. If I offended you or anybody else I apologize. I guess my main problem, which I stated less that well, is that I don’t want cars to turn into another device whose primary function is distraction (ie. many Apple products, or hand held video-game devices). Others on this site state this better than I can.

      Maybe I do have a problem with people, but I do get along fairly well with most people most of the time.

      I guess this is one of my bad days.

    • 0 avatar

      You’ve just earned my respect.  :)

    • 0 avatar


      Thank you.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m 180 degrees away from tankinbeans opinions on Apple, however, 100% in agreement with his sentiments around “connected” vehicles.

  • avatar
    Richard Chen

    I’ve got a HTC Nexus One in a dedicated BT car dock, but my audio system doesn’t have a line-in or bluetooth to take advantage of this.
    Earlier this week, researchers described some auto computer vulnerabilities exploitable with a malformed mp3 file. Theoretical, but unnerving.

  • avatar

    Very interesting. I would have thought that only smaller manufacturers who can’t or don’t want to spend the resources to develop their own connectivity systems would be adopting this, but half the auto industry seems in on the concept.
    I don’t know if this would cut down on the margins that a proprietary system like Sync makes, but I can see it easily increasing sales of such systems as you don’t have to re-learn yet another piece of software or be forced to use a perhaps inferior or irritating system.
    Ironic if Nokia smartphones and their OS don`t catch on with the public and won`t be taking advantage of their system, though.

  • avatar

    Just yesterday I saw Iphones selling for 50 bucks. At that price who will want a standard phone? (yes i know some people will). But the point being that the smart phone is taking over the cell phone market like it or not. And with that said, having these same functions built into our cars is just a point of redundanty. Who cares about SYNC if the phone you already have already does everything it can do….
    It would be so easy for Ford to make a smartphone app that would add voice funtions to control car operations as the SYNC system does and it would make much more sense. But that would not be as profitable for them… At least in the sort term while the majority of people still don’t have smart phones… Yet.

  • avatar

    Nice, if it works out. One concern I have, is how far automakers will let the integration go. Most auto engineers don’t seem to have much respect for software guys when it comes to writing foolproof code, so I’m not sure this integration will go as far as letting the phone drive, for example, a heads up display; lest it suddenly goes blue screen, blocking the driver’s vision.
    It’s definitely a step in the right direction, though. As more and more rapidly depreciating electronics gets loaded into cars, making it replaceable should help with depreciation, as well.

    • 0 avatar

      When was the last time your phone blue screened?  When was the last time your Win7/OSX/whatever Linux distro you didn’t roll yourself had serious stability issues?  (Mine do, but that’s but that’s partially intentional.) Computing isn’t like the old days.  It’s like Jack’s article yesterday about cars getting better.  Stuff works better than it used to.
      It should also reassure you that this is (seemingly) based on QNX tech.  The rules for fault tolerance and error handling are different for the kids who play in embedded, real-time operating systems playground.

  • avatar

    It’s an interesting idea.  However, looking at how Microsoft has struggled to support “legacy applications” in each successive version of Windows makes me wonder … Will we get to a point where people are afraid to upgrade their phone because, if they do, they will no longer be able to use their current car?

    Also, I think it’s important to remember that Nokia’s CEO recently compared his company to a man standing on a burning oil rig, contemplating a dangerous leap.  Last-ditch measures tend to sound radical.

    • 0 avatar
      M 1

      Such a struggle.
      Last weekend my best friend died. I dug up a DOS game we played in high school in 1986 and ran it on my Windows 7 laptop. (Avalon Hill’s Battle for Midway, written in glorious GWBASIC, if you must know.)
      Remind me, what was your point?

  • avatar

    This is great news! The only advantage that even the best infotainment system has over even the first iPhone or the worst Android phone is that it has a large screen and is built into the dash….
    Anything that any built in system can do any smartphone can do 10 times better and 100 times better once next year’s models come out.
    One thing I would add to it is external antennas for the phone, such as network and gps reception. Other than that all the built in system needs to do is display whatever is on the phone’s screen.

  • avatar

    Terminal mode is an open standard. Nokia isn’t getting any money out of it that I can see, though they should have a slight advantage being most familiar with it. Based on the whole symbian/wm7 platform switch, I doubt they have many people or dollars devoted to it.

    Terminal Mode is much more about the communication layer and data sharing, and less about vehicle integration (HUD) or mirroring. To develop a TM app, you end up creating two interfaces to the underlying data: the phone version and the car version. The car version has different resolution, readability, and operability requirements so only the truly lazy developers will mirror. And TM adds in the flag to wall off parts of the UI while car is in motion. A pitfall here is the auto makers desire to certify the apps that will run in their car, which will make most any developer cry when they have to certify the same app a dozen times.

    I predict that TM or some competitor will take off, but over the next decade, as the auto industry is still slow on the uptake of technology. Autp makers shipping cars with real time data are paying for the cellular data connection (FM traffic excepted) or passing it on to the customer (OnStar). TM eliminates that ongoing cost to the manufacturer, especially while consumers are expecting more and more real-time data e.g. restaurant reviews from yelp when they search for place to eat on the nav.

    The wrench in the works is that the telcos really want to charge you for each device you have that has a data connection: your phone, tablet, car, shoes, fridge, etc and for each novel use of the data connection: tethering vs on-device data.So, it will be interesting to see how far they can take it, as the electronics industry is pushing out more talkative devices that want to keep each other informed via the cloud.

    • 0 avatar
      M 1

      Terminal Mode is more like RDP or one of the other remoting protocols. You don’t write anything to a separate display interface. And like virtually all of those protocols, it’s pretty easy to address scaling and color depth differences and all those other issues.
      It’s Remote Desktop for your car.

  • avatar

    AS far as connected cars, I’m probably with Murilee on that

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