At the MQ! Summit in Beijing Audi showed off an early look at an infotainment system designed specifically for the Chinese market. China is a unique because it has its own ecosystem for services because many foreign players like Google or mapping companies like TomTom are not allowed to operate. This move forces global automotive players to change their strategy, and in Audi’s case, they may have solved one of the automotive industries biggest problems:
How can the a car manufacturer maintain ownership of customer data while having access to a robust developer network for services?
Audi’s MMI is one of the more advanced infotainment systems on the market. However, providing digital services isn’t Audi’s core competency, it’s making cars. Google, Amazon and Apple are kings of these services but their inability to operate in China. This has created a unique opportunity for Audi China who has created an a new interface for their MMI using Android.
Audi’s infotainment system for the Chinese market runs Android 9 in parallel with its standard MMI system.
The advantage of running Android 9 over Android Auto is that it’s more mature and doesn’t have built-in API’s that would share data with Google. Android, after all, is an open-source platform, not just a Google product. It allows Audi to integrate local services into the Android layer and the core automotive system remain secure in the MMI.
Using Android also allows for access to a large vibrant app developer community.
Sure developers have to customize their apps for Audi’s system but it’s much easier to make this modification that to build from scratch for a single car maker. In China, developers aren’t creating apps for Android Auto anyway because of its focus on Google services, but they are already developing apps for Android.
Audi’s plan is not without challenges, creating an automotive infotainment system based on Android means that they’ll be responsible for the monthly security updates. Android 10 is already launching on phones, and we’re only going to see this system in the wild for the first time at the China launch of the A4 which happens in February.
I have a video of the Android skinned MMI over on my Linkedin here if you’d like to see it in action.
Where Audi’s China Focused infotainment system can lead the industry
Keeping user data away from Google, Amazon, and Apple is essential for the automotive industry to not get cut out of the customer experience inside the car. If carmakers let any of these three companies take over the customer relationship, the relationship will be lost. Car makers can’t compete with the mature relationships and ecosystems of these tech giants. If you didn’t realize it, like many people who currently work for car companies, Amazon is aiming to be a player in automtive and shopping is going to be a massive in car activity.
Car makers need to become tech companies and digital service providers and partnering to provide these services can come at a great cost. If not done right. If Audi has found a way to access a vibrant developer community while maintaining ownership of the customer relationship and data, the entire industry should take notice.
I’m still attending car events where adding OTA’s (over the air updates) is a big deal It’s easy to see why so many are turning to Android Auto to bring them inline with what car makers like Audi are doing.
We will have to wait and see if Audi China has the vision to push this system into the global VW Group or if it will remain in China as a solution to circumstances specific to to the region.
If you’re interested in more insights into Audi and the Chinese market, check out my interview with Audi China CEO, Gaby Wüst: The Challenges and Potential of the Chinese market.
*Don and I will do a follow up at CES for our Mobile Geeks Mobility Podcast, so if you have any questions, please leave us a comment!