Architects of application

Thinking Highways
By Antti Aumo October 23, 2014 15:29

Architects of application

Figure 1. The MirrorLink concept

Antti Aumo explains how developing smartphone apps for the connected car has moved on to the next level.

The smartphone revolution has changed people’s expectations. Consumers now rely on smartphone apps for almost every aspect of their daily lives and expect uninterrupted access to those apps at any time – even while they are in their cars.

However, the use of smartphones in cars remains problematic. Smartphone apps are typically not designed for use while driving. It is difficult and distracting for drivers to interact with apps via small smartphone screens, especially since phones tend to be placed in inconvenient locations such as the driver’s lap. The dangers associated with driver distraction have resulted in growing pressure to limit smartphone use in cars, including local regulations.

Today, the primary alternative platform for running applications in cars is the in-vehicle infotainment system (IVI) or head unit. In contrast to smartphones, IVIs are specifically designed for safe use while driving. They typically have a larger display, are well positioned on the dashboard and have a simpler interface. They have controls that are designed for use while driving, such as rotary knobs and steering wheel controls. However, IVIs have their own limitations and challenges. The market is highly fragmented: each manufacturer offers its own proprietary, closed solution, typically with only a handful of preinstalled apps. Besides limiting the choice of apps available to drivers, this situation has been problematic for app developers, many of whom see automotive applications as the next great opportunity but their ability to innovate has been hindered by the fragmented market.


That is, until now. MirrorLink has been specifically designed to provide the solution to these challenges. MirrorLink leverages the car’s IVI display and controls to enable drivers to use their smartphone apps more responsibly while driving, as shown in Figure 1.
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MirrorLink is an open interoperability standard that enables apps on any compliant smartphone to work with any compliant IVI, regardless of operating system or hardware manufacturer. It also ensures that apps used while driving conform to industry guidelines for minimizing driver distraction. MirrorLink has broad industry support: it is developed by the Car Connectivity Consortium (CCC), which has more than 100 industry members representing more than 80 per cent of the world’s auto market and more than 70 per cent of the global smartphone market, as well as leading manufacturers of aftermarket IVIs. More than 500 MirrorLink-certified products are already available.

With MirrorLink, drivers can more use their smartphone apps responsibly while driving. Once the smartphone is connected to the IVI via MirrorLink, the driver doesn’t need to look at or touch the phone.


MirrorLink provides substantial benefits for developers and consumers as it opens new markets for app developers by providing a one-stop shop for creating apps that are driver-aware and work with most popular cars and handsets. MirrorLink-certified apps run on any compliant smartphone and work with any compliant IVI. App developers can focus on innovating content and new features because MirrorLink transparently manages the underlying communications between smartphone and IVI.

MirrorLink enables development of apps that meet driver distraction guidelines, allowing the apps to be used from the dashboard IVI while driving. Developers can create compelling context-aware, location-based services, with the ability to deliver engaging content to consumers during the often-considerable time they spend in cars.


Consumers are assured of a high-quality user experience. They have access to their favorite smartphone apps instead of being restricted to the limited set of apps included with their IVI. They are able to interact more simply and responsibly with their apps, even while driving. Because users carry their app environment with them on their smartphone, they can use those apps in any car with a MirrorLink-certified IVI, including rental and shared vehicles. This flexibility is helpful for people who share cars with their families or friends, rent cars during business trips or vacations, or use a car-sharing service.

Consumers have convenient access to state-of-the art apps and updates as soon as they become available, because MirrorLink-compatible apps can be distributed and continuously updated via existing app stores. This also helps keep the car’s technology feeling “fresh” to the consumer, effectively increasing the value and useful life of the IVI. Consumers typically replace their smartphones every 18-24 months, but they keep their cars much longer—an average of 8-12 years. With MirrorLink, the car’s installed IVI will continue to work with each new smartphone and the latest apps. Consumers can also invest in aftermarket IVIs without worrying that they will quickly become obsolete.


With MirrorLink, the user’s smartphone connects to the IVI either wirelessly (via Wi-Fi) or via a USB connection. This initiates a discovery process that results in the display on the IVI of icons representing the MirrorLink-enabled apps available on the smartphone. The user selects and launches apps from the IVI. The apps run on the smartphone, mirroring their user interface (UI) to the IVI display and streaming audio to the IVI that is delivered via the car’s speakers. Drivers control the app via the IVI controls, which may include a touch screen, a rotary knob on the dashboard, steering wheel controls, or voice input.

MirrorLink provides a Common Application Programming Interface (API) that can be used to optimize the app for in-car use. The API is particularly valuable when the developer’s goal is to enable apps to be used while driving. Apps can also use the API to discover and use capabilities of the IVI, such as a virtual keyboard. Perhaps most important, developers can use the API to adapt apps so that their UI conforms to driver distraction guidelines, ensuring that the apps are suitable for use while driving.


Figure 2. MirrorLink app certification levels

There are two levels of app certification: base-certified and drive-certified. Base-certified apps may be used when the car is parked; drive-certified apps may be used while driving. During the certification process, apps are tested against driver distraction guidelines and verified to work with compliant smartphones and IVIs.

Base-certified apps are guaranteed to be available to the user via the IVI while the car is parked. Base-certified apps may include those that are too distracting for use while driving. For example, streaming video apps may be used while stationary but not while driving. All drive-certified apps are also base-certified.

Drive-certified apps are guaranteed to be available to the user via the IVI while driving. Examples might include navigation and music apps. With drive-certified apps, the overriding goal is to enable safe use while driving. The app must not do anything that distracts the driver’s attention.

The CCC has created guidelines that help developers ensure their apps meet driver distraction guidelines developed by industry groups in the United States, the European Union (EU) and Japan. Apps can be drive-certified for one or more of these regions; they can also be certified for global use.

MirrorLink-certified smartphones and IVIs will allow apps to be used only within regions for which they have been certified. Developers could also create apps that change behavior when they detect that the car starts moving In the future, there will also be opportunities for apps to gather data from the ever-growing number of in-car sensors, combining that data with information stored on the phone and in the cloud to provide users with new functionality. A simple example might be an app that monitors the car’s fuel sensor and uses the smartphone’s mapping software to direct the driver to the nearest gas station.


MirrorLink opens new opportunities for app developers, providing a one-stop shop for creating apps that are driver-aware and work with most popular cars, handsets and IVIs. MirrorLink enables consumers to use smartphone apps more responsibly while driving, by leveraging the IVI display and controls; once certified, MirrorLink-compatible apps will work with any compliant smartphone and IVI. MirrorLink has broad industry backing from major manufacturers of smartphones, cars and IVIs. It has already been widely adopted, with more than 500 certified products available, including handsets and preinstalled and aftermarket IVIs. Developers therefore can create MirrorLink apps with the assurance that they are targeting a large and growing market. The key steps in creating MirrorLink apps are summarized in Figure 3. Developers can register at the MirrorLink website,, to learn more and begin using the MirrorLink tools and support.

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Figure 3. Key steps in creating a MirrorLink app


Antti Aumo is Marketing Director for the Car Connectivity Consortium


Thinking Highways
By Antti Aumo October 23, 2014 15:29