BlackBerry QNX vs Android Automotive OS: Comparison
BlackBerry QNX has been a staple of the Automotive industry for well over a decade as a highly secure OS for connected cars. Despite stepping back from infotainment systems in recent years, its market stronghold on safety-crucial functionality remains very much palpable.
On the other hand, Android Automotive OS is a relatively new industry player, which has been steadily gaining steam among OEMs and Tier-1 suppliers. With robust and easily accessible functionality, it’s a system worth considering for any new automaker.
Having experience with both technologies, we’ll compare their strengths and weaknesses, and see which system may be best for you.
In the most basic sense, QNX and Android Automotive are embedded systems that power the main functionality of a smart vehicle.
QNX is a Unity-like proprietary OS that has established a strong presence in the Automotive market. Initially released all the way back in 1982, it was one of the first commercially successful microkernel systems.
Android Automotive OS released in March 2017 as a full-stack, open source platform running directly on in-vehicle hardware. It’s notable for being able to directly integrate with GAS (Google Automotive Services), such as Maps, Play Store, Assistant, etc.
Both systems offer a similar feature set, in that they can handle a large variety of entertainment, connectivity, security, and comfort functions.
QNX and AAOS provide the following functionality:
- Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility;
- voice control with speech recognition and natural language understanding;
- multimedia discovery and playback;
- GPS navigation;
- OTA updates;
- rear view camera;
- comfort settings control;
- and others.
QNX is notable for its support for both HTML5 and Android apps and enhanced security. On the other hand, AAOS’ signature feature is Google Automotive Services (GAS). As was already mentioned, it provides instant and seamless integration with car versions of Google Assistant, Google Maps, and the Play Store.
Hardware and Software
If you’ve ever set up an Android phone, you know what setting up an Android Automotive OS is like. Being a Google product, the system requires you to provide usage data and diagnostics to the company. Once that is done, you can sign into a Google account – or stay logged out, which will limit you to just the default set of apps (radio, Bluetooth, Google Maps).
AAOS supports multiple users, so one car can store multiple user profiles with different comfort settings (seat position, mirror position, temperature, etc.) and apps installed. It also has a Guest user feature for cases where the car owner lends the vehicle out to a friend, for instance.
Additionally, the system can integrate with the driver’s Android phone to pull up contacts and Google Maps bookmarks from their account.
Unlike Android, QNX doesn’t require integration with Google. It also doesn’t force any email-based sign-in or configuration on the user’s end – all features are available from the get-go.
Though, consequently, the software does not pull contacts and bookmarked locations from an existing user account and only supports one driver profile at a time.
Android Automotive’s home screen (or Car Launcher) can display all the expected widgets, including navigation, media playback, communication, the status bar, notifications, and other components. By default it displays a list of the apps installed on the system, but it doesn’t have to.
The Car Launcher is designed with the expectation that it will be customised. Its layout, colours, icons, status bar, widgets, and so on can all be modified to fit any brand image – as long as it passes the hard safety and minimal distraction guidelines.
On the whole, the interface will be immediately familiar to anyone who has ever used an Android smartphone or tablet before.
QNX home screens are what most of us think of when they imagine a standard in-vehicle HMI. They typically feature a similar array of information to AAOS, with a non-fullscreen map, media playback, notifications, weather, and other status data.
The default interface relies on the bottom bar menu to switch between navigation, media, calls, settings, app list, and so on. But much like AAOS, that preset is highly customisable and can be completely revamped depending on the automaker’s wishes.
Play Store Ecosystem
Google Play Store is absolutely massive – but its dedicated Android Automotive section isn’t. Google is very particular about what apps can and cannot be installed on AAOS due to strict safety regulations. As a result, the section contains a decent, but still relatively modest number of solutions.
The current selection includes not just GAS services, but media streaming services (Youtube, Audible, Spotify, iHeartRadio, etc.), POI apps, parking apps, fuelling and charging apps, news applications, in-vehicle onboarding software, and even games.
BlackBerry has its own software ecosystem, which includes speech recognition solutions (Nuance and open source alternatives), HERE navigation, open source options for cloud and embedded TTS, Bluetooth functionality with Mindtree, and more.
QNX itself incorporates a multitude of infotainment services, with its own Multimedia Suite, Blink-based Web Browser, Acoustic Management Platform, Speech Framework, BlackBerry OTA Platform for updates, among others.
The Future of Android OEM Customisation
Android Automotive is fully skinnable, meaning car manufacturers can make it look however they like using the existing code, APIs, and the app ecosystem as the basis. Yet the possibilities for system customisation are continuously expanding.
I/O 2023 has demonstrated Google’s commitment to continuously enriching the system, with Youtube support, games, and smart message replies greatly expanding Android Automotive’s entertainment and communications possibilities. In addition, this year’s Detroit Auto Show marked the reveal of Amazon Prime Video, Zoom, and the Weather Channel apps on AAOS.
Google’s Android for Cars App Library now also officially supports IoT applications. These will enable users to control various smart home devices, such as the thermostat, locks, garage doors, cameras, and so on – all from inside their cars.
Material Design is planned to come to AAOS – though only for developers, not for drivers. According to the official documentation, OEMs will be able to use so-called design tokens that represent repeated design decisions implemented across the system. These will allow for dynamic changes in the interface depending on the situation.
Security features will continue to be customisable depending on local market requirements, with automakers being able to disable or adjust certain features during driving. This includes the Play Store, car manual, keyboards, text messages, videos, and so on. Though, if the car has a front-seat passenger, said features can be made available for them.
The Future of QNX Customisation
BlackBerry has also been presenting some exciting opportunities for QNX enhancement over the course of this year. The company has been especially keen on cloud technologies.
For one, BlackBerry IVY was revealed at CES 2023. It’s a cloud-connected automotive AI platform developed in tandem with Amazon Web Services designed to help OEMs deploy third-party apps at a faster pace. It’s currently pre-integrated on 3 commercially-available digital cockpits, but will gradually become available on a wider range of systems.
Another cloud technology revealed at CES was QNX Accelerate, a cloud version of QNX Neutrino RTOS. This is a big milestone for the development of embedded vehicle systems that will drastically reduce development cycles for new automotive and IoT solutions. Select OEMs and Tier-1 suppliers (Marelli, Continental) have already received early access to it.
“[Cloud computing] is going to be foundational to all our products — the operating system, and the hypervisor, and safety products,” says John Wall, Senior Vice President and Head of QNX at BlackBerry.
BlackBerry QNX remains massive among leading brands, including Bosch, Ford, BMW, Aptiv, General Motors, Toyota, Volkswagen, Honda, Mercedes-Benz, and many others. It’s a well-established industry partner with a lot of trust behind it.
According to TechInsights, BlackBerry QNX is embedded in over 235 million cars worldwide as of 2023 – that is a 20 million year-over-year increase.
“In ten years, BlackBerry QNX has expanded from being in over 16 million vehicles to over 235 million today. Undoubtedly, we are the market leader for secure and safety-certified automotive software,” states John Chen, Executive Chairman & CEO, BlackBerry.
Android Automotive is still in its early stages of adoption, so the current list of models supporting this technology is relatively short. Nevertheless, it includes models from such brands as: Audi, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Dodge, Ford, GMC, Honda, Lincoln, Lucid, Maserati, Polestar, Rivian, Volvo, and Renault.
This lineup will only expand over time. Currently, Ford and Volkswagen are looking to integrate AAOS into their cars more broadly (namely for the F-150 Lightning and VW ID.2all models). Porsche and Mercedes-Benz are also preparing to incorporate Android into some of their vehicles. So the majority of OEMs will offer at least one model compatible with AAOS by 2024.
By 2025, AAOS is predicted to become the predominant automotive OS in new vehicles, surpassing QNX and Automotive Grade Linux. In 2026, 90% of new car models (mid and high level) will be using Android Automotive OS. Though it bears mentioning that less than 6% of those vehicles will feature GAS due to data safety and privacy concerns.
BlackBerry QNX vs AAOS: How to Choose an Automotive OS
The choice ultimately depends on what you want to prioritise and how much resources you’re willing to dedicate to infotainment development. Let’s look at the basic pros and cons of each system to make it more clear.
Blackberry QNX OS Pros & Cons
- Security. QNX is compliant with multiple security standards (including ISO 26262) and is well-protected from cyber attacks thanks to its built-in security model, which makes it the go-to choice for many mission-critical systems.
- Stability. The system’s microkernel architecture allows it to run different services in separate protected memory spaces, resulting in very stable performance.
- Customisation. QNX is decently flexible, in large part owing to its modular architecture. This makes it easy to shape for a variety of markets and customer requirements.
- Fast time to market. QNX follows the POSIX programming standard, which helps reduce the time it takes to turn an idea into a market-ready product.
- Cost. The system is commercial, meaning you’ll need to pay licensing fees, which can get rather expensive compared to open-source solutions.
- Few third-party apps. QNX supports a very limited scope of third-party applications compared to its competitors, which restricts the system’s functionality. And obviously, its own ecosystem is no match for Google’s.
- Learning curve. QNX has its own specific architecture, tools, and programming model that developers will need to understand. The learning curve for that can get pretty steep.
- Underwhelming design. While QNX runs the core functionality of the system behind the scenes, carmakers usually build their own interfaces on top of it (e.g. Audi’s MMI and Ford’s Sync). However, since automakers tend to lack UI design expertise, these interfaces often end up underwhelming.
- Support. A point of contention, but a point nonetheless: some developers note that QNX support can be slow and unresponsive, with updates and fixes taking a long time to roll out.
Android Automotive OS Pros & Cons
- Open source. AAOS is completely open source, making it much cheaper than its proprietary competitors.
- GAS. AAOS offers deep integration with car versions of Google Assistant, Google Maps, and the Play Store by default.
- Predeveloped extensions. Developers can use predeveloped automotive extensions and a variety of libraries for Bluetooth, navigation, and other functionality, which significantly speeds up the development process.
- Accessibility. It’s an Android system, meaning finding developers that know how to work it is as easy as can be.
- Robust customisation. As long as designers stick to the automotive safety guidelines enforced by Google, AAOS customisation capabilities are pretty much limitless.
- Not real-time. AAOS cannot be used to power lower-level processes the same way QNX can due to its less fault-tolerant performance.
- Limited adoption (so far). As of today, Android Automotive is supported by a limited range of vehicle models, most of which are in the higher price range.
- Privacy. Automakers that agree to implement AAOS into their cars also agree to share all vehicle data with Google, and not all OEMs and drivers are comfortable with that prospect.
- Safety concerns. The open-source nature of the system and the distrust towards Google’s data protection measures are slowing adoption, particularly when it comes to GAS.
Pay Attention Points
If we boil it down to the most crucial factors, QNX is extremely safe and reliable, but lacks user-friendliness and can have a very resource-intensive dev cycle. On the other hand, AAOS is cheap, pretty, and easy to work with, but isn’t as stable.
AAOS is perfect for creating a great user experience as an infotainment system, while the real-time architecture of QNX is a better fit for mission-critical functionality, such as brakes, sensors, etc. So technically you can integrate both to fulfil different purposes.
BlackBerry QNX vs Android Automotive OS: Final Verdict
Bamboo Apps has experience in working with both QNX and Android Automotive OS, so we reached out to the company’s CTO for his opinion on the matter.
“The major benefit of BlackBerry QNX is the microkernel architecture, which minimises downtime and cyberattack surfaces through isolation and separation mechanisms,” says Maxim Leykin, the Chief Technology Officer at Bamboo Apps.
“Device drivers and system services run alongside applications, separated from one another and the kernel. Such architecture makes Blackberry QNX especially good for usage on mission-critical embedded systems with a limited amount of resources and high requirements for performance, scalability and security.”
Maxim goes on to mention the usual gripes people have with QNX, including licensing costs, the longer learning curve, limited customisability, and the relatively small number of libraries. This is where AAOS compares favourably to it.
“…Android Automotive OS (AAOS) is based on the open source and very commonly used Android OS which simplifies the learning curve and allows to engage more developers. It is highly customisable and suitable for rapid development of a fancy and complicated UI. The number of libraries ported for AAOS is big.”
“Unfortunately, AAOS is not a real-time OS,” he continues. “It’s not as reliable and fault-tolerant as QNX, thus it can hardly be used when developing software for low-level embedded systems with a limited amount of resources and high reliability requirements.”
The general consensus online seems to be that QNX is a very solid system for those looking to maximise security at the cost of user experience and development speed. “A bit challenging to develop for”, “not the most affordable operating system available”, “could be more user friendly”, and “the app selection is not as robust as other platforms” are some of the common complaints about the product.
On the other hand, Android Automotive is very much beloved for its sleek interface and ease of development – while being not so beloved for enforced feature lockouts, complete data submission to Google, and its Play Market store section being a little underwhelming (though, still offering a considerably bigger app selection than QNX).
Users have to say the following when comparing the two systems:
- “In my eyes [AAOS]’s not a competitor, they are a partner! AAOS runs on the Blackberry QNX hypervisor so it can run non-critical applications that need to interface with the vehicle. QNX does have an Infotainment system that used to be a player in the market, but BB has effectively dropped that to focus on the core mission critical systems that run the car!”
- “QNX is a lower level operating system that controls the sensors, brakes, etc. Basically the car components that require realtime guarantees. QNX also provides a hypervisor (to run multiple QNX instances for different car subsystems) and an infotainment system that’s likely not going to be as popular as AAOS.”
In other words, QNX-based infotainment isn’t seen as a viable competitor to AAOS. However, Blackberry’s lower-level safety systems can work alongside an Android interface to deliver the ultimate driving experience that’s both secure and pleasant to navigate.