My perspective on CES 2012 and how apps are going to get into cars:

Technical

  1. The Status Quo: Today, drivers are using audio cables or basic Bluetooth audio streaming. This puts every app in the car, eyes and thumbs on the phone instead of the road and contributes to the importance of defensive driving.
  2. Superapp Cloud Strategy: This is the approach that car companies are taking to have a closed system under the cloak of calling it “open.” Specifically, only a handful of content businesses have the technical resources to connect and provide ongoing automotive support for these superapp services.
  3. App to Car Strategy: This is a safer version of the status quo (above) and offers the choice of greats like Ford (AppLink™) and Pandora (PandoraLink™). The idea is that users are going to use content they already have on their phone, regardless of whether the auto company integrates it into the car or not. Working in the car extends the distribution for apps to be used in cars, safely.
  4. Embedded modem vs. mobile phone data plan: What Audi has done with embedding a SIM card in the car is solid.  The only problem this presents at a macro level is the expectation for all (including non-luxury) drivers to pay for a secondary data plan on top of their mobile phone data plan.
    1. Are consumers financially able and willing to pay an additional bill for a mobile data plan?  I think it’s too big a leap to make.
    2. “What about users that don’t have a smart phone?” Do you really think that someone that doesn’t have a smart phone would have their first mobile monthly data play payment be the one in their car? No way. Give a non-smartphone owner a choice between spending $60/month for an iPhone data plan or even $10/month for a car data plan (that is only used in the car) and guess what they will choose.

Business on a Crash Coarse

  1. Who pays? – Simply put, car companies expect to get the applications to do the work to get on their system for free, as application companies (mainly Internet radio) make “all this money” from advertising. App companies feel the opposite way. As cars cost thousands of dollars, the car companies can afford to do the custom integration work to their specific system in the car. App companies should not have to pay.
  2. Maintenance costs – The elephant in the room (or car for this discussion) is that change is the only constant in the CE industry. The variables: phones, operating systems, consumer choice, technology, laws, royalty rates, and customer preferences change about every 8-12 months. Why is the industry ignoring the maintenance costs with business plans and technology strategies that are doomed to fail? Most startups are racing to get to a milestone in users so they can sell or provide an IPO. This is a crash waiting to happen for the car built in 2012, and on the road in 2015
  3. Bottom Line on Free: Both content providers and cars will get what they have paid for in terms of integration.

For the Consumer

  1. Who controls the HMI for infotainment in the car?
    1. Ask an app company, they will tell you they want the control, but don’t want the liability.
    2. Ask a car company and you’ll hear that they have full control over everything that comes in the car.
    3. The unpopular truth is that the consumer ultimately controls the HMI in the car by their ability to bring in a 3.5” (or larger) touch screen. The only way for a user to give up their mobile device in exchange for what’s in the car is to offer the customer something better than their 3.5” touch screen. Regardless of how an auto company or an app company works on this design, ALL OF THE CONTENT/APPS that a user is going to use while driving need to be able to be controlled in this environment for the user to switch from their 3.5” HMI in their pocket to the one on the dash.
  2. Legal restrictions
    1. The challenge here is more technical in nature. It’s impossible to know (with 100% certainty) whether someone is riding in a car or driving. Additionally, regardless of the technology embedded into a car, there will always be a workaround to bypass driver distraction devices. Additionally, there is the issue of emergency use of the phone. For example, if the phone is safe-driving disabled by the car before an accident, how would the phone be unlocked to make an emergency call after the accident?
    2. The solution:
      1. I predict that there will be laws preventing anyone under 18 to use a phone or any device while driving, without exceptions.
      2. I predict that Bluetooth specifications will be available to move the important items to a driver (phonebook, navigation, and music) to their dashboard, while disabling all other functions on the phone when the phone is connected. In this scenario, a user could “unpair” their phone and do whatever they way, but the benefit of pairing the phone to the car and getting the essential features will outweigh the costs of not being able to do other non-essential features on the phone.
      3. Additionally in the next few years, a significant but non-majority of drivers will want a setting on their phone to batch their messages while driving and then alert them when the car has stopped moving.

What needs to be addressed before CES 2013

  1. Technical scalability – If thousands of worldwide apps are going to be used in cars, there must be a system that allows those apps to communicate with cars regardless of the mobile operating system, or vehicle system. The current 1:1 technical integration doesn’t scale. 30 car companies working with 30 different apps require 900 engineering projects at a 1:1 level.
  2. Addressing the app of the month – The commercials used to sell cars are all about what consumer want today (to get the car sold) what about in three years from now, when your warranty is just about to run out and you still have another 3 years left on your car payment? Who’s going to ensure that the apps 3 years from now are going to work?
  3. A business model that doesn’t pass the buck needs to be adopted on both sides of this equation. Ultimately the consumer will continue to buy new cars with or without the technology they are asking for.  If the new car comes with tech not built to stand the test of time, the consumer will unfortunately be the ones stuck holding the check if things don’t change.