MADISON, Wis. — Automakers such as General Motors and Ford Motors are said to be on a hiring binge for software developers in Silicon Valley and Southern California.
GM -- armed with its own software development kit (SDK) -- is courting software developers to write unique automotive apps for their cars. Ford is offering its own SDK for software developers to write smartphone apps to be used in Ford cars.
These divergent approaches illustrate a measure of ambivalence among carmakers on how to tackle the growing number of software apps that seem destined to change their cars' future.
A key question carmakers are still wrestling with is whether third-party software developers should focus on writing software directly to the automotive platform, or should they be developing smartphone apps that will be used in cars?
Either way, the onslaught of software development is bringing both opportunities and headaches to car OEMs.
Just talking about "cars" and "software" in the same sentence makes a few knowledgeable drivers a little uneasy. The growing number of software apps on cars is uncharted territory for everyone, including carmakers (who aren't exactly known for their cutting-edge software skills). Moreover, let's be honest -- we all worry about the potential of software running wild, which could, in the worst case, undermine the safety of future cars.
Multiple layers of auto software conundrum
EE Times first reported last month that Google will come to the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas to announce an industry consortium for connecting phones with cars. How exactly that will change the software landscape for the automotive industry is too early to tell.
What's clear is that the software conundrum automakers face today comes in multiple layers.
I asked Egil Juliussen, principal analyst, Infotainment & ADAS, at IHS Automotive, to help decipher the multifaceted software challenges for future cars.
With the block diagram below, Juliussen explained that major stakeholders of software and hardware platforms are competing at every software layer.
Multiple software layers for new in-vehicle infotainment architecture.
(Source: IHS Automotive)
In the infotainment platform, companies like QNX, for example, held a 50 percent market share in auto-grade application software interfaces in 2012, according to IHS. Microsoft's share was about 25 percent.
Once cars get connected with the outside world, automakers are now also in need of auto-grade middleware that handles common network software, said Juliussen.
For example, GENIVI, a non-profit industry alliance designed for the broad adoption of an In-Vehicle Infotainment (IVI) open-source development platform, is gaining ground, he explained.