The IHS iSuppli team goes inside the heart of the market leader in connected car technology.
The connected car is one of the fastest growing connected devices behind smartphones and tablets. It is driving every automaker to compete vigorously for the crown of best in-vehicle infotainment.
It's true that the market remains somewhat fragmented, but it wouldn't exist at all were it not for the strides that Ford has taken as a global market leader. The introduction of the Microsoft OS-based Ford Sync in 2007 took the OEM from technology laggard to leader overnight, and has been the sector's benchmark ever since.
With its most recent Sync, MyFord Touch has innovated in areas such as capacitive touch and distributed modular infotainment architectures. The strategy also points to an increasing reliance on software and cloud connectivity over traditional hardware-centric navigation systems.
As such, the Touch features readily available, off-the-shelf components as opposed to the custom application-specific parts typically associated with automotive electronics.
The latest Sync also marks the arrival of Ford's new infotainment platform, MyFord. Voice control allows drivers to control apps without removing their hands from the steering wheel and the system offers features such as navigation and hands-free cellular calls.
The second-generation APIM went on sale in Model Year 2011 in the US on Ford and Lincoln products, starting with the Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX. It is not yet available in Europe but it appears increasingly likely that it will arrive soon, with the first Ford Sync-enabled product for that market set to be the 2012 Ford Focus. This IHS iSuppli teardown features a subsystem within the 2011 Ford Edge SEL.
Brains and heart
The accessory protocol interface module (APIM) provides the 'brains'. It is an embedded PC at the core of the system. This system, now in its second generation, is based on a Freescale Semiconductor processor and supporting chipset, and has grown to feature a number of new incrementally improved components.
The centrepiece in the Freescale suite is the MCIMX516AJM6C processor, which is based on the ARM Cortex A8-core architecture as are so many new smartphones (including the iPhone). It is accompanied by Freescale parts for the microcontroller and power management.
"However, despite the cost of the core functional circuitry, memory takes a prominent position on the bill of materials for the latest APIM. There has been an eightfold increase in DRAM and NAND flash," says IHS's Andrew Rassweiler.
The DRAM content (4 x 1Gb, vs 2 x 256Mb) is the most costly element within that and for the module as a whole, but Ford has also opted to use more inherently expensive SLC NAND flash (2GB vs 2Gb). Future proofing is the basis for this decision.
Considering this is an automotive design, it is pretty edgy in applying a Mitsumi module with Broadcom's BCM4325 chip to provide wireless Bluetooth (V2.1+EDR) and Wi-Fi (802.11b/g) connectivity, as well as an FM radio receiver. The typically long design-cycles in automotive usually preclude the use of products that are being used in very recent handset designs such as the Motorola Backflip.
"This is also an example of Ford turning to a 'board-ready' solution from a third party. These simplify design by not requiring any support circuitry, and offer designers a kind of 'plug 'n' play' option," says Rassweiler.
"The Sync does not feature a dedicated chip focused on speech/voice recognition, which frankly we have yet to see because it is a complex function that seems primarily to still be achieved through software, even in smartphones. Ford Sync uses a generic applications processor and microcontroller chipset, and software from Microsoft to perform this core feature."
The APIM consists of 1,062 components, broadly comparable with what you might see on an Android smartphone and a reflection of Ford's 'off-the-shelf' priorities.
Most are on the main printed circuit board (PCB). Notwithstanding the complexity of surface mounting these parts, this makes the final integration of the main PCB relatively simple. It is mounted into a two-piece die-cast aluminum enclosure, and a handful of screws, labels and a thermal transfer pad are affixed at this stage. "Given that, we place the hardware component and manufacturing cost for the APIM at $127.30," says Rassweiler.
By contrast, the module has an effective retail price of $395. Remember that the comparative number does not include software, marketing and other costs. The actual price tag of the Touch is largely hidden from the buyer as it forms part of a bigger $1,000 system together with features such as a touch screen, rear camera and audio system. *