Here's how Mercedes hopes its new OS will give it an advantage

Here's how Mercedes hopes its new OS will give it an advantage
Feb 2023

Software is hard. Automakers have been delving into zeros and ones with various levels of success for decades. For every (excellent) Mercedes MBUX Hyperscreen, there's a Volkswagen ICAS infotainment system that even the automaker admitted--out of the gate--was a disappointment.

Mercedes has so far hit on a winning strategy with its MBUX infotainment system and, more importantly, its adoption of a robust voice assistant. Yet, everything needs an upgrade, and the German automaker is giving not just MBUX a bit of a boost but also laying out a software roadmap that gives the automaker an impressive amount of control over its vehicles.

First, we'll get a next-generation 2024 E-Class that will ship with an updated version of MBUX called MBUX Entertainment Plus, because everything is a plus these days. Mercedes says the system will have quicker hardware and a faster 5G network connection.

If this then that, but with wheels

One interesting feature headed to the E-Class is Routines. Drivers can set actions to occur under certain circumstances. It's a bit like IFTTT for your car: If it's under 50? F when you start the car, you can have it automatically turn on the heated seats. Items can be set by time of day, weather, and traffic. Eventually, the vehicle will learn a driver's habits and will offer up routines.

This upgraded infotainment system will also offer new third-party apps not currently available on today's Mercedes. As expected for the luxury vehicle (favored by middle management), owners can jump into Zoom calls and collaborate via Webex while parked. Less business-y is the inclusion of everyone's favorite aviary video game, Angry Birds. More surprising is that the E-Class will also ship with TikTok. If the social media video-sharing site seems off-brand for the luxury automaker, Mercedes CEO Ola Kallenius told Ars Technica during a roundtable interview that TikTok is huge in China, where the average age of an S-Class owner is under 40.

For those more interested in blockbuster movies and TV, video-streaming company Zync will also be integrated into the E-Class, as well as future integration with the Amazon Fire TV system for rear passengers.

For the front passengers, the automaker is also making the passenger screen available in a larger number of vehicle models. In the E-Class, the three-screen layout is called the MBUX Superscreen. Like Electrify America, Mercedes is signifying the difference between "hyper" and other stupendous words. Like the Hyperscreen, the layout is three displays housed behind a single piece of glass. Mercedes noted during a presentation that in the future, Mercedes will offer a pillar-to-pillar single display to production vehicles like that found in the Vision EQXX.

MBUX, MB.OS, MB you like acronyms

The E-Class is a bit of a sneak peek into the upcoming Mercedes-Benz Operating System (MB.OS). Mercedes CTO Markus Schaefer said, "The E-Class will be a precursor in the space of infotainment. We call it the 0.8 version of MB.OS." While the shoutout of the E-Class is apt, the reality is the upcoming MB.OS is a huge change for Mercedes, which plans to own the entire software stack, giving it control over every aspect of the vehicle. It's a big deal for a company that sees over-the-air updates, subscriptions, and digital purchases as an integral part of its future.

The chip-to-cloud Linux and QNX-based MB.OS platform will be part of the upcoming MMA (Mercedes Modular Architecture). At a high level, QNX will handle safety and the dash cluster, and Linux will take care of the infotainment aspect. The first vehicle based on the platform will be introduced in the later part of 2024, with the vehicle reaching showrooms in 2025.

Kallenius explained the current system to Ars Technica like this:

"So some engineer in Sindelfingen comes up with a concept. You have to write that down. You have to send it to the supplier that needs to be quoted. Then procurement people need to negotiate with each other. Then that supplier goes to some sub-supplier in Eastern Europe and wherever they do. It goes back up the chain again. It gets tested and nine months later, you have actually changed something in your infotainment system. Now you go into the ESH [Mercedes' electric Software Hub]. To say, let's change this and you just do it."

Another benefit of moving quickly is adding value to vehicles years after they've left the lot. When pressed about when Mercedes would freeze software development on a certain vehicle, Kallenius said they don't have a definitive date on that. It's likely that if Mercedes can continue to add value to a vehicle and offer up new subscription-based revenue streams from a decade-old car, they'll be happy to keep sending it updates.

The bold goal of controlling the entirety of its vehicles' software hasn't blinded Mercedes to the need for partnerships. "We are the full architects of the stack. That doesn't mean we need to program every line of code. It doesn't make technological sense, and it doesn't make economic sense," Kallenius said.