BlackBerry QNX Bentley Offers a Glimpse at the Road Ahead

NEWS ANALYSIS: The connected car market is a tremendous opportunity, though not without challenges, for the mobile industry.

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The automotive industry is the next natural extension of the smartphone market. Automakers will soon have their own app stores, mobile developers are designing apps with drivers and passengers in mind, and as smartphone sales begin to slow, market segments from the wireless carriers to the mobile chip makers have a new revenue driver to focus on.

Juniper Research expects 20 percent of cars, or roughly 90 million, in North America and Western Europe to be app-connected by 2017, driven by smartphone ownership and changing expectations.

At the 2013 BlackBerry Live event from May 14 to 16, BlackBerry showed off its newest concept car, a QNX Bentley Continental GT. While QNX is in the infotainment systems of the great majority of new cars on the road (it's in 200-plus vehicle models), the Bentley was designed to interact with BlackBerry 10 devices.

The car features a 17-inch, 1080p display that's curved, so a user's finger can comfortably reach every inch of it, and includes pre-touch technology, so it can sense even a hovering finger.

From the (parked) car, a user can place a video call to a smartphone and, among other things, the car—which can be an end point in the BB10 Hub—can reach out to the driver with diagnostic information, such as to say that the oil is low.

The phone, in turn, can contact the car, to push updates to its software—this was demonstrated onstage, and occurred very quickly—or, over morning coffee in the kitchen, to push out route information for a trip later in the day.

BlackBerry can also use the software to push out its own updates and manage cars on a global scale.

While the Bentley is a concept car, not available to the public, Mercedes-Benz CEO Johann Jungwirth joined BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins onstage during his May 14 keynote address, to suggest that many of the same capabilities are coming to future cars, which increasingly resemble our other devices.

"I think we are the only OEM using a secure VPN link between the car and our back end," said Jungwirth, who added that all Mercedes vehicles are now connected.

When asked by Heins what his vision for five, 10 or 20 years down the road was, Jungwirth was coy.