IQon by Saab: Android on Board

A little overshadowed by the announcement of a certain updated tablet, car manufacturer Saab announced at the start of the month that its cars may become the first to run Android, in the form of their new onboard infotainment system, IQon.

While this is still in its beta phase, it is a very interesting announcement, particularly in the promise of an upcoming API for developers, including no less than 500 incoming signals from the vehicle, like current speed, temperatures and location.

Let’s take a look at some of the possibilities.

What’s New?

At the moment, we don’t have any more than a promo video, some screenshots, and a press release; however, when you look at the way that Android has been received recently, there is a good chance that this might do a little better than when Microsoft tried to get Windows CE for Automotive into every car a decade ago.

The new IQon interface © Saab Automobile AB

Back in January, Toyota announced that by the end of the year, some models will include an in-car multimedia system which can sync with your smartphone and use its data plan to give you access to a select range of services. However this will not be a self-contained device with its own operating system, which IQon appears to be, and doesn’t boast its own marketplace.

In the same way that opening platforms has enabled third party developers to have a revolutionary impact in certain markets, having access to a wide range of information — over 500 feeds as Saab claim — could potentially revolutionise the way we interact with our cars in the future.

One key point is that the system won’t just run any Android app from day one. Saab will be reviewing apps for themselves for “safety, security, and malware”. This could mean that they don’t allow apps that compete with the bundled apps, or it may simply be to stop drivers crashing because they are playing Angry Birds.

What’s Possible?

Driving

Nobody can deny that the main reason all drivers own a car is to get from A to B. And developers could do a very wide range of related things with access to as much data as the car can provide.

An obvious example would be navigation. There are already navigation apps available for and even included with Android, but as technologies develop, and systems, for example those that take into account where the traffic is moving slowly, are launched, a market will develop, and apps will start competing to be your navigation app of choice.

It would be very easy for an app to record your driving, so that, for example, if you claim expenses from your employer, you can create a very accurate log of where you’ve been and how much fuel it used.

The other interesting field would be in analysis of driving. It’s acknowledged that little changes to your driving habits, like braking too sharply, can have a big effect on how many miles to the gallon you get; it would be possible to analyse this post-trip as opposed to the current system of a little number flashing on your dashboard while you’re often trying to concentrate on the road.

The system appears from screenshots to be able to interface with the car to to control, say, the air conditioning. There could be some really interesting developments of this that, frankly, only a third party developer would think of! You might use an app to look at the destination, and during the journey, very gradually adjust the temperature in the car, so that when you arrive, you don’t notice it being any warmer or colder than when you left.

One last driving-based idea is providing quality feedback to learner drivers who are preparing for a driving test, either as they go along, or after their journey. This qualitative feedback, based on statistics, would provide an overall level of analysis that someone sitting in the passenger seat couldn’t detect.

Entertainment

While everything will need to be voice controlled, and of course you don’t want to distract yourself too much, we could potentially see a new type of app that takes data from typical communication tools we are used to — like Facebook, SMS, or Twitter — and provides them in a format that doesn’t require much concentration: perhaps a small selection, spoken, and maybe even triggering whenever you’re stopped in a queue or at traffic lights.

This ability to access the data, coupled with information about what the car is doing, enable a safer approach than is available at the moment.

Moving on slightly, but staying on the theme of Twitter, what about an app that plays music based on your friends’ preferences (think #nowplaying), with a voice controlled option to activate “Songs that people who recommend this, also recommend”, to find similar songs.

The default icons from the Saab IQon © Saab Automobile AB

The software appears to come bundled with software to discover restaurants based on reviews and recommendations, a media player, and a weather app.

Connectivity

A really important part of this system is the fact that it can interface with the car. In an ideal world, this would mean increased detection of problems before they develop, leading to increased early repairs, fewer breakdowns and less frequent servicing. After all, if your car can take care of itself, why go to the trouble of getting a mechanic to do it?

If you ever do break down, it could even be possible to send diagnostic information to your breakdown cover provider and even get a remote diagnosis, getting you on the road again a lot quicker.

Naturally, the first thing you would expect is the ability to pair IQon with your phone, but hopefully it can go a little deeper than that. One nice touch, that would probably come down to a third party developer if the hardware can support it, would be the ability to pair with multiple bluetooth devices for different reasons. For example, the driver needs to be able to take handsfree calls, but the passenger doesn’t. The passenger could still want to pair their device, say to play music.

The system is described as ‘Wi-Fi enabled’, however I can only assume that you would use that to create a moving hotspot, allowing your passengers to use laptops and alike on the move.

Overall

This isn’t going to be with us for a little while yet (probably next year at the earliest) but when it does, it will be interesting to see how developers respond.

While these are just some of the apps I would really like to see, and all pure speculation at the moment, the options for developers are pretty much limitless. It’s certainly possible that other car manufacturers will follow suit; after all, Android is effectively available to anyone.

Could this be the next big platform, or will Android go the same way as Windows CE did a decade ago? Let me know what you think, share your thoughts in the comments!