A View from the Top: A Virtual Prototyping Blog


How Many Apps Platforms Can a User Handle?

What do the Inchron Real Time Congress this week and my last weekend home project have in common? They both are all about complexity, real-time, apps and platforms those apps run on. In automotive and consumer domains, apps are running on platforms in systems of systems. The question to me at this point is how many platforms – like AUTOSAR, GENIVI, Android, IOS, Windows Mobile etc. – as well as versions of them can an apps interested user really handle?


Let’s start with the Inchron Real Time Congress, which I was attending on Tuesday and Wednesday. After BMW talked about  the networked car with several networked sub domains. Continental then talked about how to enable Human Machine Interfaces (HMI) with one hardware and hypervisors underneath (see the graphic on the left, Source: Continental). Other presenters from Continental, Audi and Volkswagen confirmed the trend to the networked car and the discussion during the day centered around the real time aspects of car-related applications.

While my next “apps driven” car purchase is likely still some time away, my home remodel reminds me in a nightmarish way of what is ahead of us in cars and other apps driven domains. After a one-year re-modeling project and expansion, one geeky upside is that I now have CAT6 installed throughout our home. Everything is installed in-wall. I am happy (and somewhat proud) to report that the engineer in me is still present as without a problem I was able to add Ethernet plugs and such during the last weekend. If this whole system-level gig does not work out, I definitely am still capable of planning and installing home entertainment systems …

Not unlike the networked car, our house now has several networked sub-systems, in our case the home office, bed room, living room and family room. Connected via CAT6, the closet in the bed room hosts a gigabit switch to connect the video server, an Apple iMac hosted in the home office, to the rest of the house. An Apple TV (Version 1) and a Samsung Blue-Ray Player connect via a receiver to a Samsung wide-screen TV in the living room. An Apple TV (Version 2) and an iPOD dock connect via a receiver to a Sharp wide-screen TV in the bed-room. A Comcast multi-room DVR connects from the bed room to the family and living rooms.

The second Apple TV was purchased pretty much specifically to enable more “Family Guy” episodes via NetFlix (OK, Caillou and Blues Clues are found here too). As always, the Apple interface is slick and intuitive. It took me 15 minutes from unpacking the box to streaming video via NetFlix. The nightmare started when I activated the internet service on my Blue-Ray player. The Samsung “Smart Hub” updated via internet. The Netflix interface looked much different on the Samsung “Smart Hub” platform and I had to tinker a while until I had signed up for a Samsung account, registered the DVD player and got to streaming video after about 90 minutes. It took me another hour to figure out how to get to the latest revision of the Samsung platform via internet, after which all apps needed to be upgraded as well. Now the interface for Netflix roughly resembles the Apple interface, but is less slick, slower and looks different enough to notice.

How do I explain these different interfaces to my wife and daughter? I have no idea. Why are they different, even on the same platform across revisions? Ideally they should not be.

To make things more complex …. our Samsung TV also has an internet “Smart Hub” interface with apps. Comcast just sent me a advertisement on their apps. I am hesitating to unpack the Sony play station for the family room – yet another platform and yet another apps interface.

At the system-level I am musing in this Blog mostly about aspects at the hardware software interface. The experience with my home network, combined with what I hear about the future of cars, drives me to some conclusions applicable to my world at work of tools enabling software development and system-level design:

  • The versioning of platforms and apps running on it, needs to be solved before the mainstream user – like my mom, dad, wife and daughter – can adopt these new technologies. Linaro is a first step for Linux. We desperately need similar activities for AUTOSAR, Android and other platforms.
  • Case in point: Gadget Magazine T3 just compared the HTC Flyer, the RIM Playbook and the ASUS EEE Pad Transformer, three tablets. The HTC runs Android 2.3 with a HTC Sense custom UI on it. The RIM Playbook runs the QNX user interface. The ASUS runs Android for tablets – Honeycomb. Three fundamentally different user experiences are OK in competition, but not in the same environment (like our house, or a car). Fellow Blogger Steve Leibson recently referred in his EDA360 Insider post to a PCWorld article on why there are little Honeycomb apps. Oh well.
  • To get to mainstream adoption, we may need “Uber-Apps”, both for hardware and software, which stand above the actual apps. I finally may have a good reason to get an iPad, if it could be the “Uber-Interface” from which I can control all our apps and devices.
  • “Owning the user experience” is more crucial than ever. Apple has mastered the art, but you have to commit to them completely. The situation in my family room would be completely unacceptable in a closed environment like a car. That’s why the car OEMs at the end will own every interface which touches the user. They will define the platforms their suppliers will need to enable in hardware and have to run apps on.
  • Given that the tools I am responsible for sit right at the interface between hardware and software, monetization on apps we enable has always been a fascinating topics. With hardware providers (like Continental above) actively thinking about hypervisors to shield the software from the hardware, monetization on apps will become even more difficult for tool vendors.

Bottom line, apps have become a central part of system-level design and are impacting every step of the design process. Getting them fully adopted and which platforms will prevail, remains an interesting question. As always I am looking forward to your thoughts and comments!

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