“HTML5 applications are created, maintained and executed in a modular way are not inextricably tied to a monolithic stack. In addition, the dynamic nature of HTML5 allows the same apps to change their looks and HMI for different car lines and manufactures.”- Paul Boyes (OpenCar)
“The in-car apps are like the ones AT&T and Samsung load on a mobile device that when a consumer buys the phone they are preloaded with a bunch of apps beyond those that are available on some application store.”- Adam M Abramski (Intel)
The HTML5 standard has gained popularity in the automotive landscape. The in-vehicle systems are increasingly interacting with the outside world, like smartphones and the cloud, making it imperative to understand how applications are developed, their ‘future-proofing’ srategies and the difference between developing apps with HTML5 and the traditional native development approach. While many automotive and web experts call HTML5 the most significant HMI development for 15 years; many others call it a ‘silver-bullet’ for creating in-car apps. Aside from these predictions, there are working groups where engineers are burning their midnight oil to create the best out of HTML5 and make it available for the end users.
One such group is the Automotive and Web Platform Business Group, a part of the larger World Wide Web Consortium(W3C)- the working place of Tim Berners-Lee which is extensively working on addressing the unique needs of the automotive industry. In December 2012, the W3C published the complete definition of HTML5 specifications – an actual set of standards is expected before the end of this year. And the connected car industry is now part of the official process. The automotive group was created within the W3C in February 2013. In a recent interview, Shamik Ghosh of Telematics Wire(TW) interacts with Paul Boyes(PB) and Adam Abramski(AA) to discuss the on-going activities at W3C for the developments of HTML5 based automotive standards. Paul and Adam co-hold the chair position for the Automotive and Web Platform Business Group at W3C.
Let’s get going……….
TW: How did the ‘Connected Car’ technology gain mindshare and popularity at W3C ?
AA:There’s some history here before the Automotive & Web Platform BG got started to sheds some light in answering this question. The EU government started a project 4 years ago called Webinos and one aspect of the Webinos project was to look at HTML5 and Automotive. As such BMW and W3C, among others, got involved in coming up with some web specifications for vehicle data and simple navigation. In parallel, GENIVI started working on a vehicle data web spec as well in 2011/2012 and published one in late 2012. QNX had started working on a web platform that supported automotive specific capabilities in 2011/2012 and Intel had been working on automotive web vehicle data specs since Meego in 2009/2010 and then with Tizen in 2011/2012. The W3C approached GENIVI in April 2012 to discuss the possibility of having an Automotive Workshop. Intel as a member of GENIVI led the effort and funding for the Automotive Workshop in Rome, Italy in Nov 2012. There were at least 50 to 60 people in attendance ranging from OEMs, Tier 1’s, system integrators, platform and SoC vendors. This was the beginning and Intel drove the charter, goals and the creation of the Automotive and Web Platform Business Group with the W3C advice and direction. Intel and the W3C talked with various automotive companies and consortia like GENIVI to join the effort and in March of 2013 the BG was officially formed and launched. Since then the group has grown from about 20 to 30 members to over 100 now representing about 50 companies.
TW: Could you please share some insights about the on-going work at W3C with regards to automotive infotainment?
PB: Currently the business group is bringing the Vehicle Information API (https://rawgit.com/w3c/automotive-bg/master/snapshots/vehicle_spec_snapshot_latest.html) and the Vehicld Data Interfaces (https://rawgit.com/w3c/automotive-bg/master/snapshots/data_spec_snapshot_latest.html) reports to stable state for a 30 day review. The target for this is the end of July. In addition the speech, navigation, and media are being considered as next areas for reports. In addition there is discussion about creating a W3C Automotive Working Group with a potential target data of October.
AA: There has been and is some discussion/collaboration happening between a GENIVI web speech effort and the W3C Speech specification report from the W3C Speech Community Group that was facilitated through the W3C Automotive and Web Platform BG. This discussion has led to a few changes/additions to the Speech specification and discussions are continuing so as to make sure the Speech spec takes into consideration nuances and capabilities that are unique to vehicles when it comes to speech. I expect more facilitation like this to happen between the Automotive & Web Platform BG and other W3C Community and Working Groups as we create other reports in various areas like Paul mentions above.
TW: What is it that is influencing car makers and solution providers to adopt HTML5 for developing in-car apps? What are the end benefits of HTML5-based apps to the end user?
PB: The prime influences are accessibility to developers (including OEMs themselves), portability, and maintainability. HTML5 is strong application development platform with many HTML5 application developers out there. We have seen repeatedly that open standards based platforms are very popular and succeed. One only needs to look at the use of HTML5 in other domains. For the OEM, they open up their platforms to this ubiquitous language and can leverage the large pool of developers. By using a standards based consistent HTML5 application container, they also gain portability and maintainability. HTML5 applications are created, maintained and executed in a modular way are not inextricably tied to a monolithic stack. In addition, the dynamic nature of HTML5 allows the same apps to change their looks and HMI for different car lines and manufactures.
The end user benefits in that, like other devices, a large variety of apps will be available for use, as the platforms will be opened, within reason, to developers with app focus. In addition, these apps may be rapidly updated allowing for a more rapid feedback loop and better user experience.
AA: In addition to what Paul says, so beyond thinking about third party application developers for a moment, the OEM’s and their Tier 1’s create applications for the OEM IVI head units. These applications are the core applications that ship with the vehicle. Think about these apps that I’m describing as the ones that AT&T and Samsung load on a mobile device that when a consumer buys the phone they are preloaded with a bunch of apps beyond those that are available on some application store. So OEMs are themselves looking for an application development environment that will scale across their product lines and without being tightly coupled to the underlying monolithic OS stack. So portability of those efforts in designing and developing those applications can live beyond let’s say one generation. There is lots of reuse and cost savings to the OEM if they have such an application environment. Also a key point that ties into this is that the look and feel of the UI and user experience is a key differentiator for all vehicle OEMs and as Paul mentioned above having a dynamic application environment/framework like HTML5/CSS/JS is absolutely critical.
TW: Is it true that HTML5 apps, at times, show a ‘sluggish’ response? If yes, wouldn’t it be a matter of concern while developing car-centric apps? How can we overcome this?
PB: This may have been true in the past with underpowered computing resources with lack of optimization, but is no longer true. Given a properly integrated rendering environment and rational programming practices, the performance of HTML5 apps is indiscernible from that of native app performance on almost any current platform.
AA: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more with Paul. I can say that at Intel we are dedicated to making HTML5/web technologies run as fast as native or that’s certainly the goal. Many organizations within Intel are working on ways to continue to improve and to prove that web technologies can run as fast as native code on Intel hardware.
TW: The US DOT and NHTSA have proposed some guidelines regarding in-vehicleHMIs and UI/UX. How is W3C taking cognizance of the same to sync its efforts with such regulatory measures?
PB: The Automotive Business Group has not been focused on HMI to date, but issues of safety have been discussed in the group particularly as it relates to the ability to get and set vehicle information. That said, HTML5’s capability to change UI/UX easily makes it a prime platform to deal with these issues of safety and regulation.
TW: When could we see HTML5 apps becoming mainstream amongst car makers and app developers?
PB: Some manufactures, like Mazda, are already using HTML5 in their vehicles. Others like GM have an SDK and appear committed to HTML5. In addition, most Tier 1’s already have or are starting to build HTML5 platforms. I believe over the next few years we will see HTML5 steadily become a prime platform for apps in production.
AA: Agree with Paul and I can’t really add any more to answer this question except that we hope the efforts by the Automotive BG in creating our first web spec that this will be the starting point for the automotive market to have a standard and one that can be used as the start to the tipping point of seeing HTML5 technology become more mainstream in vehicles.
TW: On a scale of 1-10, rate the following ecosystem players according to their level of acceptance of HTML5 standard:-
Automotive OEMs, 3rd party app developers, Smartphone manufacturers, Content Providers, Middleware, API developers and Semiconductor Industry
PB: This is a tough one. From the gut, here you go…
- Automotive OEMs – 6 and steadily gaining acceptance
- 3rd party app developers – 10 – HTML5 is a top tier application platform
- Smartphone manufacturers – 7 – I think we will see more and more acceptance as the platforms mature and become more and more commodity.
- Content Providers – 10 – HTML5 is the primary format for most Internet content
- Middleware, API developers – 10 – HTML5 is a prime consumer of API’s and middleware
- Semiconductor Industry…………… 10 – companies like Intel are big proponents of HTML5
Want to learn more on W3Cs initiatives on automotive, please follow this link.