Harman welcomes Apple into automotive infotainment
Paliwal (left) and Lawande
With a $16 billion book of future business, Harman International Industries Inc. is on a tear. In April, the company said it had signed a $2.2 billion contract to provide infotainment systems to BMW AG through 2018.
Earlier that month, Harman also announced contracts worth $500 million to supply Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, Beijing Automotive Industry Holding Corp. and Tata Motors Ltd. And in March it announced a $1.25 billion contract to provide infotainment for the next-generation VW Golf, Audi A3 and Skoda Octavia.
Special Correspondent David Sedgwick discussed Harman's prospects with CEO Dinesh Paliwal and Sachin Lawande, co-president of the lifestyle and infotainment divisions.
What are the growth prospects for automotive infotainment?
Paliwal: Only 15 percent of the cars built today have [infotainment] systems. Five years from now we expect that 50 to 60 percent of new cars will have built-in systems or some degree of connected capability. It's a massive growth area for Harman.
Recently, Apple introduced Eyes Free, which lets motorists use Apple's Siri voice technology to dictate text messages or get route guidance. Is this a threat to Harman?
Paliwal: It's a good thing for Harman. Navtec, TomTom and Google provide map data. And now we can buy Apple's map data. That's a good thing for competitiveness because we can get better prices.
So Apple won't shove aside Harman?
Paliwal: Apple, Google, Harman, Samsung and Nokia are not mutually exclusive. We will co-exist.
What can Harman offer that other suppliers cannot? Is it that you can produce audio systems and integrate them with voice technology?
Lawande: Exactly. If you strip away all the other stuff, there are two systems: audio and infotainment. There are not too many companies that can do both. We are one of very few companies that has that capability.
Harman has been working on "gesture controls" - that is, a console screen that allows motorists to launch apps by making finger swipes, just like a smart phone. Will gesture controls emerge as an alternative to voice recognition?
Lawande: The jury is still out. It has yet to be fully worked out. Gesture controls work best for a device with a relatively small screen, and when the user is stationary.
Like a smartphone?
Lawande: Exactly. When you use a smartphone, you get no positive feedback to see whether your instructions were carried out the way you meant it. So you have to look at the device [to verify your command] at least twice.
Which is not good if you're driving a car.
Lawande: The whole idea is to keep your eyes on the road.
So it would have some limited usefulness, but not as a complete substitute for voice commands.
Lawande: That's right, but a hybrid system might be possible. Imagine that you're on the nav screen and you want to get the phone. With a flick [of the screen with your finger], you could do that. And you would get an audible confirmation that you are on the phone screen now.
When will it be ready?
Lawande: The earliest would be 2014.