Apple's CarPlay, announced earlier this year, is the first substantial move the tech giant has made in to the realm of transport.
If an infotainment system is installed in a vehicle, it must work well. Unlike hooking your iPhone up as a music player, you will need to use it every time you drive, and so it must be intuitive, slick, and useful for the driver.
The iPad and iPhone maker's CarPlay system brings connectivity to cars as one of these systems -- using a custom iOS interface on your car's interactive dashboard to display maps, navigation data, traffic updates, and content from iTunes and audio applications. In addition, you will be able to use Siri to voice command the system -- or through a button on the steering wheel -- so users can make calls, listen to and send messages.
Third-party apps, including Spotify and iHeartRadio, are also supported. CarPlay is available as an update to iOS 7 and works with Lightning-enabled iPhones, including the iPhone 5s, iPhone 5c and iPhone 5.
Car manufacturers that plan to release CarPlay in the future include BMW, Chevrolet, Ford, Jaguar, Kia, Toyota and Nissan.
A potential alternative to Apple's CarPlay -- and not one that is so surprising -- is what could be an Android-based infotainment system developed by Google. In a job advertisement posted this year by Mercedes' parent firm Daimier, a software engineer was requested to assist in implementing Google's system, apparently dubbed "Google Projected Mode" within vehicles.
The job ad described the system as software to "seamlessly integrate" Android devices in to a car's interactive dashboard, stating that the infotainment system would be used for "media content, sending messages, receiving phone calls and navigation."
At the Consumer Electronics Show this year, the tech giant also announced the launch of an Open Automotive Alliance to develop such a system. According to the company, the alliance includes automakers such as Audi, GM and Honda.
In addition to the development of a rival infotainment system, we cannot forget Google's research in to autonomous vehicles. Google's self-driving car initiative has been in motion for some time, with tests on city streets being conducted around the congested streets of California this year. Lasers, GPS data and navigational software are used to prevent the car from colliding with obstacles.
Nokia isn't necessarily the first brand that comes to mind when you consider connected cars. However, the electronics giant has created a unit focusing on mapping technology called HERE as a rival to Google and Apple's own mapping systems. Here is available on mobile devices, but the system can also be used to help drivers navigate unfamiliar roads -- and could potentially become integrated within interactive dashboards.
In addition, Nokia announced an investment fund of $100 million for companies developing technology for the connected car this month. The investment fund, run by Nokia Growth Partners, will work in partnership with Here.
Microsoft's Windows in the Car is a concept system unveiled by the Redmond giant this year.
Revealed at the Microsoft developer conference this year, Windows in the Car -- while similar to Apple's CarPlay -- is based on a brought-in device approach which allows drivers to connect their smartphone to a vehicle and view a projection of the device on the vehicles' display.
The software understandably looks similar to Windows Phone thanks to a tiled display which shows road speed limits, maps, phone services and music. Windows in the Car will also be opened for developers, which could improve the amount of apps available in the Windows app ecosystem, sadly lacking in comparison to Android and iOS.
The MirrorLink standard is used by the concept connected car system.
While later to the party than Apple, we have to keep in mind that many in-car systems already run on the Windows operating system, and Microsoft lays claim to years of experience in the field.
General Motors is the creator of the MyLink infotainment system and OnStar connectivity platform, and has made LTE connectivity a must-have in new Chevy models. 4G connected cars are due for launch this year, and GM is overhauling its approach to connected cars entirely -- by revamping both systems and refusing to rely on the driver's smartphone to access such systems.
Instead, GM has invited developers to design applications for the interactive dashboard within an HTML5 framework, and will allow them to connect to an LTE network through embedded radios. Apps available on the dashboard platform include music streaming services, location-based apps and general information apps such as Glympse and Weather.com. New applications submitted by developers go through a screening process to make sure they are deemed safe and not a way for drivers to become too distracted.
MirrorLink, built by and managed through the Car Connectivity Consortium, is software that bridges a smartphone and car's infotainment system. Drivers connect the phone to a car via cable and gain access to smartphone applications through a car's dashboard as well as dash or steering wheel buttons.
The technology is built on existing Internet technologies and standards including Bluetooth and USB technology, and is designed to keep smartphone use safe on the road. MirrorLink has become a universal standard for this type of integration, but how it is managed is down to individual car manufacturers. MirrorLink does have one main requirement: apps must be approved by the CCC to ensure driver safety, and the group is currently creating a standard for certifying apps considered safe enough to use.
Daimler, General Motors, Honda, HTC, Hyundai, Nokia, Panasonic, Samsung, Toyota and Volkswagen are among the many companies which have signed on to become CCC members.
Ford is the creator of SYNC AppLink, a service which allows you to control smartphone applications through voice commands while at the wheel. At CES 2014, the automaker said it planned to expand the service to 3.4 million more vehicles this year, bringing the total count of AppLink-enabled cars to almost five million. According to Ford, over 60 apps in the Android and iOS ecosystems are SYNC compatible, which means drivers can access these applications through a car's dashboard.
It is not just about gadget producers or automakers -- chip designers are also key in order to develop and run car infotainment systems in connected vehicles.
While Qualcomm is not a member of the Open Automotive Alliance -- unlike rival Nvidia -- the company believes that the connect car is not just about the Web, but also about making our vehicles smarter by using environmental sensors and in order to achieve this, cars need to use similar technology and processors found in high-end mobile devices.
Wireless connectivity enabled improvements in basic safety, security, crash detection and remote diagnostics and maintenance, according to Qualcomm.
However, we need to keep in mind that while automakers and tech firms are keen to push their connected car solutions on the market, safety and security remain a problem. Not only could 'too much' interactive tech prove to be a distraction, but hooking up our cars to the Web may also leave them at risk of cyberattack and infiltration.
Image credit: Qualcomm
Fiat believes that in-car connectivity is a major channel for improving customer relationship management (CRM).
According to Fiat EMEA product planning and strategy chief Massimo Cavazzini, vehicle maintenance and the ability to remain connected to customers outside of a yearly check-up is a key advantage of connected cars. The exec says that Fiat plans to roll out a system within the next two years which will use the Web to underpin every step of a customer's journey, from picking up the car to maintenance.
However, Fiat did admit that one problem facing the industry is conservative sales models and dealerships resistant to change, which could scupper the adoption of car connectivity and the use of the Internet in maintaining customer relationships.
Not to be left out in the cold when it comes to infotainment, Fiat and Microsoft have co-created a system called Blue&Me which allows you to make and receive calls, read texts and listen to music on any device with a USB connection in your vehicle.
Chrysler's UConnect is a popular infotainment system compromising of a main screen and menu with clear icons, a QWERTY layout and simple navigation. You can use the system to connect Bluetooth-enabled handsets to your car while keeping your hands on the road, and drivers can voice activate the system to make calls, mute the radio and contact emergency services. You can also transfer calls between your car and smartphone when entering or exiting a car.
Nvidia is another chip maker looking to secure itself a strong position in the connected car industry. The company is developing the Tegra Visual Computing Module (VCM) which can work alongside various vehicle operating systems and will boost the processing performance of infotainment systems, according to the firm.