The modern vehicle - developers are taking to the streets

The acceptance of vehicle-friendly apps beyond simple navigation, music, or infotainment, foretells future when can car will become work and leisure time. Our bosses will likely be showing up on holographic displays right there in our vehicle cockpit.

About the author

Shawn Livermore

Sr. Consultant, Product Perfect

Senior Consultant and best-selling author with over 24 years of industry experience leading high-volume custom software implementations and driving large tech migrations for Fortune 500 clients.

“As the world emerges from the pandemic, it is clear that remote work is here to stay. And as people increasingly seek out ways to stay connected while on the go, it makes sense that automakers are beginning to incorporate communication and collaboration apps into their vehicles. These new features have the potential to transform the way we think about our cars and how we use them, opening up new possibilities for productivity, entertainment, and relaxation.”
CNN Business, "Why Microsoft Teams is coming to a car near you", 2022

Not too long ago, apps and cars were considered mutually exclusive and categorically dangerous to mix together. Any attention paid to our phones while driving that defocused our sight, hearing, or mind from the task at hand was rightly considered to be a dangerous case of multi-tasking gone too far. But the advent of connected cars and driverless transportation is changing that perception.

In fact, the paradigm has already shifted so significantly that Chinese-Swedish automotive juggernaut Lynk & Co. launched an in-car version of Microsoft Teams in July of 2022. Tesla just rolled out its Zoom meetings app, allowing parked vehicles to hop on zoom calls - even tapping into the internal dashcam to capture the driver’s face on video. These watershed events could foreshadow an acceptance of vehicle-friendly apps beyond simple navigation, music, or infotainment. This transition could also signal the beginning of an era when car time will safely be leveraged for work, entertainment, or rest. This transition, if true, would also be a juicy meal for hungry developers to feast upon, pressing their forks deep into next-generation vehicle software APIs and SDKs.

“I would be shocked if we do not achieve self-driving cars safer than human [drivers] this year. I would be shocked.”
Elon Musk, Tesla, SpaceX, and Twitter CEO

I am not sure if I would be shocked or not to see Elon Musk shocked...

The In-Vehicle app market is experiencing significant growth
Global in-vehicle app market summary. Source: Businesswire

A brief history of vehicle-friendly apps

The history of vehicle-friendly apps can be traced back to the introduction of the first GPS navigation app, TomTom, on the iPhone in 2007. This marked the very beginning of the trend of this love affair between smartphones and cars. It also paved the way for the development of the next plateau, in-vehicle apps.

Several notable vehicle-friendly apps were introduced in the years that followed, like Waze in 2008. This app  allowed users to share real-time traffic and road information with one another. Spotify, a music streaming app, was launched in 2009 and allowed users to play music and podcasts in their vehicles using Bluetooth. The launch of Apple's Siri in 2011 offered hands-free control of the user's iPhone while driving. It also added a new dimension to the experience of using technology while driving.

Smart phones climb onboard

The trend of integrating smartphones into vehicles continued with the launch of Android Auto in 2014 and CarPlay in 2015. These platforms offered hands-free control of navigation, messaging, and music, and made it easier and safer to use technology while driving. The launch of Amazon's Alexa Auto in 2016 integrated Amazon's virtual assistant into vehicles. This provided hands-free control of music, navigation, and other functions. The commercialization of autonomous vehicle technology began with the launch of the Waymo self-driving taxi service in 2018. This is now viewed as a milestone in the history of vehicle-friendly apps.

Connected cars and 5G

Connected cars are expected to bring significant changes to the vehicle-friendly app market. With the integration of advanced technologies such as 5G, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things (IoT), connected cars will provide a more seamless and personalized user experience. For example, drivers and passengers will be able to access a wide range of apps and services directly from the car's dashboard, such as music and entertainment, navigation, and vehicle diagnostics.

This will create new opportunities for app developers and companies to offer innovative solutions that enhance the driving experience. The data generated by connected cars can be used to improve app performance and to develop new services, such as predictive maintenance and real-time traffic updates. As the connected car market continues to grow, it is likely that the vehicle-friendly app market will also see significant growth and transformation in the coming years.

Aspects of car software include software development models, standardization, security, safety, system design and more.
Redesigned visual from original provided by “Car Software”. Source: EE Times

Vehicle-friendly app types

As the vehicle-friendly apps gain traction, several distinct niches have emerged in this market based on the needs and preferences of drivers.

Infotainment apps

Infotainment car apps are designed to provide drivers with entertainment and information while they are driving. These apps are designed to be used in the car, and they typically offer a range of features, including music streaming, news, podcasts, weather, and more. Some popular examples of infotainment car apps include Spotify, Audible, Apple Music, and Stitcher.

Navigation apps

Navigation vehicle apps like Google Maps, Waze, Apple Maps, and HERE WeGo were originally designed to help drivers reach their destinations by providing turn-by-turn directions, real-time traffic updates, and alternative route suggestions. But it’s grown into so much more than that. Some, like Google Maps, go so much further, providing real-time traffic updates, estimated arrival time, and various modes of transportation, including driving, walking, biking, and public transportation. Waze adds road closures, speed cameras, and accidents reported by other Waze users.

“GPS has saved countless relationships because us men do not like to ask for directions. Now if women could only come with relationship GPS we would be one step closer to world peace.”
Ken Poirot, author, entrepreneur, public speaker

Driver behavior monitoring apps

Driver behavior monitoring apps are designed to help drivers improve their driving habits and reduce the risk of accidents. These apps use data from the vehicle's onboard computer to provide drivers with feedback on their driving performance, such as acceleration, braking, and speed. One popular type of driver behavior monitoring app is the telematics app. Telematics apps track the driver's speed, distance traveled, and other driving metrics to provide drivers with a score that reflects their driving behavior.

The scores produced are attached to drivers, and are now being sometimes used by insurance companies to offer discounts, (and ahem, increase rates perhaps), on insurance premiums for safe drivers. In addition to improving driving habits, telematics apps can also provide valuable data to fleet managers to help them optimize their fleet operations and reduce costs. By providing real-time feedback on driving habits, driver behavior monitoring apps help drivers become more aware of their actions on the road, which can lead to improved safety and reduced accidents.

The key players in the race to create a modern vehicle development platform

Tesla, Apple, Google, and Amazon are currently the three major players in the vehicle-friendly app market.


Tesla, the worlds most valuable car company now, is obviously at the top of the conversation. They're trying hard to ever-improve the experience for their early-adopter customers by integrating all sorts of clever and fun apps into the car software. They even released a software development kit (SDK) to encourage third-party developers to create new apps. Some of the apps they already got are pretty cool, like Netflix and Hulu for entertainment, and Waze and Google Maps for navigation. But get this, they also have random kid-at-heart and goofball games like Cuphead and Stardew Valley that you can play while you're charging your car. These apps have actually had a big impact on Tesla's customer base. People are enjoying their rides even more now that they have these apps to keep them entertained, especially during long trips. Plus, having third-party apps has made Tesla's cars even more versatile and functional, making them more attractive to potential customers.


Apple is currently focused on enhancing the user experience for its CarPlay platform. It is working on integrating new features such as voice control, improved navigation, and enhanced integration with third-party apps. Apple is also expanding the range of vehicles that support CarPlay and is partnering with car manufacturers to make the platform more widely available. Below showcases a sample set of application interfaces under the hood of the Apple CarPlay stack.

apple car play application stack and systems layer concept diagram
Apple CarPlay Block Diagram. Redesigned based on source from NXP

Apple is not the only contestant. Google is focused on improving the user experience for its Android Auto platform. It is working on integrating new features like a form of enhanced navigation, voice control, and deeper integration with third-party apps. Google is also working on developing partnerships with car manufacturers to compete with Apple for the Android Auto more widely available in new vehicles.

Amazon too?

Yes. Alex is in the car now. And Amazon is all aboutit. They are trying to expand the capabilities of its Alexa Auto platform, working on new features like better voice control, enhanced navigation, and improved integration with third-party apps. Amazon is also working on expanding the range of vehicles that support Alexa Auto and is partnering with car manufacturers to make the platform more widely available.

Not surprisingly, all three of these major players in the vehicle-friendly app market are also exploring the potential of autonomous vehicles for the next generation of driverless cars. I think their product teams are looking to leverage their expertise in software, app development, and artificial intelligence, as a fulcrum to position themselves to dominate autonomous vehicles as well. However, it’s an aggressive juxtaposition to take, and it may lead to too much product too soon. It’s a decent setup for the economically motivated premature release of autonomous vehicle technology... when kids are in carseats in minivans, the tech better work.  

The app stack / layer cake for vehicle apps

The layer cake/logical design/application stack for 90% or so of manufacturers is one of the following genres:

  1. AUTOSAR (Automotive Open System Architecture)
    AUTOSAR is an open and standardized software architecture for automotive electronics. It’s a common SDK for automotive manufacturers including BMW, Daimler AG, Ford, General Motors, PSA Group, Toyota, and Volkswagen.
  2. Linux
    It’s the obvious choice for so many hardware / software / mission-critical systems. Linux provides a flexible and customizable platform for developing automotive software - finely tuned for high-frequency/low latency responsive apps and event-driven modalities. Many automotive manufacturers such as Audi, BMW, Jaguar Land Rover, and Tesla use Linux in their vehicles.
  3. Android
    Google has partnered with a number of automotive manufacturers including Audi, Honda, Hyundai, and Volvo, to integrate Android natively into their infotainment systems.
  4. QNX
    QNX, (used by Audi, BMW, Ford, and Toyota), is a real-time operating system that prides itself in providing a high level of reliability and security, ideal for critical automotive systems such as the instrument cluster, infotainment system, and advanced driver assistance systems.

As for the most popular software languages used in the automotive industry, C and C++ are still widely used due to their high performance and efficiency. Other languages such as Java, Python, and JavaScript are also used for developing automotive software.

At the top of the stack is the Application Layer, which includes the software applications that run on the vehicle's infotainment system. These applications can include navigation systems, media players, and voice assistants.

Below the Application Layer is the Middleware Layer, which provides a set of services and APIs to enable communication between the Application Layer and the Operating System Layer. This layer can include software components such as messaging frameworks, security services, and protocol stacks.

The Operating System Layer sits below the Middleware Layer and provides the foundation for the software stack. It includes the real-time operating system (RTOS) or general-purpose operating system (GPOS) that manages the hardware resources of the vehicle. This layer can include software components such as device drivers, file systems, and network protocols.

At the bottom of the stack is the Hardware Layer, which includes the physical components of the vehicle such as the processors, sensors, and actuators. This layer provides the input and output capabilities that are necessary for the software to interact with the physical world.


It seems like only a matter of time until driverless technology is safe and widespread- although many would have expected it by now (and may be shocked). Important considerations for apps used in cars include:

  1. Always-connected, driverless vehicles are changing the perception that apps and cars are mutually exclusive.
  2. In-car apps for meetings, such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom, may foreshadow an era when car time is safely leveraged for work, entertainment, or rest. Holographic bosses making demands of our time and effort right from inside our cars are probably coming soon - like it or not.  
  3. Driver behavior monitoring apps are examples of vehicle-friendly app niches that have emerged in the market, but can also be used to keep drivers awake and alert them to their own bad habits.
  4. The future of vehicle-friendly apps is expected to be heavily influenced by the rapid advancements in autonomous vehicle tech, ai, and the largest tech players, Microsoft, Apple, and Google.
  5. The blurred line between the tech industry and the auto-industry will only get blurrier. It’s only a matter of time before Apple buys Tesla, or Microsoft buys GM, or Google buys Honda. Something will move the needle and we’ll see bundling of auto insurance, auto financing, smartphone, and operating system monthly fees, all in one low monthly price.

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