The iPOD, the Zune and Gracenote

December 30, 2008


It is probably obvious to everyone that the iPOD changed the world. Introduced in October 2001, over 150 million iPODs have been sold at last count and that number continues to grow rapidly. The Microsoft Zune, a relative newcomer, is also enjoying brisk sales. People are now able to take their music with them anywhere they go and listen whenever they want.


Automotive OEMs are reacting to the portable media phenomena and are providing connectivity for these devices into automotive head units. What was the exclusive domain of the aftermarket is now becoming mainstream. People can plug their iPODs, Zunes and even USB sticks into the car and play their music back over their car stereos.


Taking it one step further, we are starting to see cars with hard drives on-board. People can now download their music to their cars – turning them into giant portable media players on wheels.




OK, well maybe that’s a stretch but portable media is definitely becoming a big part of the automotive experience going forward.


With several family members (and their friends) often sharing a single vehicle, a lot of content can find its way into the car. That content is likely to be pretty diverse and not everybody in the family necessarily likes everybody else’s taste in music. I like alt rock and jazz, my wife likes pop and my in-laws like country. Download all this content into the car and you run the risk of listening to music you can’t stand. Cruising along at 70 miles per hour, you can either put up with it or start fighting with your stereo to make it go away – a risky proposition.

It seems the ability to manage your content intelligently would be a good thing to add to the mix. Gracenote brings exactly this to the market. They provide the ability to organize and navigate large music collections. Gracenote software analyzes and recognizes tracks and organizes them by genre, by artist and even by album. With over 1600 pre-defined genres you can quickly narrow down the style of music you feel like listening to, even in the most eclectic of music collections.


One of the coolest features of their product is called “more like this”. The “more like this” command creates customized playlists based on the current song. Its not to far off the concept I described recently when I blogged about Pandora. The seed song is used as a starting point and Gracenote then builds a playlist. If you like what you hear, you can save the playlist and if you don’t, you can start again.


Like Pandora, they deliver not only the music but also all the metadata associated with the music. You can check out album art, lyrics, artist biographies and even album reviews – although you probably shouldn’t be reading album reviews on the freeway.


The QNX Gracenote solution will be on display in the Gracenote booth at CES. If you happen to be attending, stop by and have a look – and a listen.


The desktop in the car – Pandora Internet Radio

December 8, 2008


Technology wise, it’s an exciting time for QNX in the automotive industry. Desktop type functionality is making its way into the car. Wireless technology and advanced graphics are quickly making the connected car vision reality. It won’t be long before the only difference between your living room and your car is the steering wheel!       


Unfortunately, however, the companies that provide a lot of this functionality do not have their roots in the embedded space. This creates a host of licensing issues because these vendors see big business opportunities without really comprehending the licensing requirements of the embedded industry. I spend a lot of time with lawyers trying to get them to the point where they start to understand the model that you and I take for granted.


Every now and then, I get a pleasant surprise. I recently started talking to Pandora Internet Radio about bringing their technology into the car. Pandora Internet Radio offers a very neat spin on radio. You just go to their website ( and type in the name of one of your favorite bands or songs. Their algorithms then create a custom radio station based on this seed song, streams it to your desktop and you’re off and listening. You also get a view of all the metadata and lots of information about the bands you are listening to. I started with The Smiths and right now I am listening to The London Suede. I’ve never heard of The London Suede until right now but I like what I hear. By their look you can probably guess what they sound like.



What does any of this have to do with software licensing? QNX is tinkering with Pandora Internet Radio and our QNX Aviage Middleware Suite. If we get to the point where we do integrate it, we will want to be able to pass it along to our customers, the automotive Tier 1 suppliers, so they can evaluate the combined technology for their designs. At some point, the Tier 1s will decide to include it in infotainment systems they sell to the car manufacturers. You will then get to buy cars that include this cool technology (the car looking more and more like your living room). All good for you but typically means that I’ll be back with the lawyers arguing about cascading re-distribution rights, term and termination and who knows what else.  


Pandora is different. They really are about enablement. To access their APIs you apply and if your business lines up with theirs they give you access. To license the APIs they have a pretty benign click through agreement. It gets you access to the API and the ability to give your integrated solution to your customer. If your customer needs to pass it along another level then they too agree to the click through license. There’s some other stuff in there but it’s all perfectly reasonable – it even makes sense to us non-lawyer types. 


It’s easy, it’s painless, and it barely involves lawyers. If more companies entering the embedded space adopted this type of enablement philosophy then maybe we could spend more time chasing business and less time chasing each other. Of course, I might be out of a job… 


Sadly, I write this while travelling in the United States – can’t get Pandora in Canada – I think it has something to do with licensing rights.