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How UL Helps Keep Smartphones Smart While in the Car

Third-party testing helps reduce car phone interoperability problems for a positive end-user experience.

Driver uses a mobile phone with smart driving assistance apps. The app is connected to a car computer and is displayed on the board display.

October 15, 2019

The Internet of Things (IoT) is expanding its reach into more and more of our lives through the connectivity and interoperability of our devices and appliances. With this connectivity comes convenience and power.

But when something doesn’t connect or features do not function as expected, it can cause problems, especially when it involves two items central to life like a car’s radio — also called a head unit or an infotainment system - and a smartphone.

UL’s Connected Technologies Senior Project Coordinator John Sbrolla recalled a rather extreme but illustrative example of this issue.

“There was a particular consumer who purchased a vehicle. He had a phone that wasn’t compatible with that head unit,” Sbrolla said. “Instead of buying a new phone, he returned the vehicle. It wakes you up to what’s happening in the industry. Consumers expect the products to work as advertised and work seamlessly.”

And while this may not be everyone’s response to fixing a modern problem, it’s understandable for consumers to be upset if their new car and smartphone don’t work together.  

When interoperability fails

Maan Ghanma, UL’s Connected Technologies business development director, mentioned there are numerous interoperability issues — poor audio quality, abrupt disconnections, random freezes — that can occur when the interconnection between a car’s infotainment system and a smartphone fails.

Ghanma portrayed the issue as two moving parts. Both the infotainment system and the phone’s operating system receive updates throughout their life cycles, so this isn’t a one-time job. It’s a continuous ongoing testing effort to help ensure compatibility and interoperability.

“Consumer satisfaction is a manufacturer's main focus,” he said. “You expect your car to work for many years, and be flexible enough to work with many different smartphones.”

Manufacturers of infotainment systems seek out a third-party tester, such as UL, to check if any concerns occur between select models of phones with a variety of infotainment systems. The end goal is to help reduce problems and provide a positive end-user experience.

“We are actively testing well over 50 infotainment systems from numerous OEMs, with some systems from as old as 2010 model year,” Sbrolla said. “Specifically, in our West Palm Beach, Florida, laboratory, we have a huge library of mobile phones, enabling UL to run unparalleled interoperability programs.”

The team also tests various wireless connected technologies, such as automotive infotainment projection services, which are proprietary services that connect a phone to a car, Wi-Fi and wireless charging.

Catching issues early

Through ongoing testing conducted by wireless connectivity specialists, problems with updates to operating systems of the smartphones and/or infotainment systems can be detected early through a well-defined test plan procedures. By objectively following these test plans, UL’s experts can identify, diagnose and report issues to the client before it reaches into the hands of consumers. 

Are you interested in learning more about inter-connectivity for a smart world? Visit UL's Consumer Technology site for information about IOT Smart Product Testing and Certification.