Early ‘connected car’ technology was centred on location tracking and the vehicle monitoring its own systems and sending any anomalies back to base for processing. Getting a warning about a flat tyre or imminent flat battery was great, but hardly provided more than what was already displayed on the dashboard.
It quickly evolved into a much broader telematics data collection being sent back to a secret base somewhere in space. We were shown how good driving could be monitored and good drivers rewarded with lower insurance premiums.
We were overawed by LTE connectivity that could deliver streaming video to the screaming kids in the back seat and driving aids that warned of accidents ahead and even before they happened with the use of anti-collision warning systems. We can now even park the car simply by pulling alongside a space and pressing a button!
Now we see mobile device operating systems being adapted specifically for in-car use and telcos offering special plans for them, but where is all this leading to?
Take Apple for example. At the recent Genera Motor Show it announced that leading auto manufacturers had signed up to roll out CarPlay, “the smarter, safer and more fun way to use an iPhone in the car.” The associated press releases stated that: “CarPlay gives iPhone users an incredibly intuitive way to make calls, use Maps, listen to music and access messages with just a word or a touch.”
The idea is that users can easily control CarPlay from the car’s native interface or just push-and-hold the voice control button on the steering wheel to activate Siri without distraction. Vehicles from Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo will premiere CarPlay immediately, while additional auto manufacturers bringing CarPlay to their drivers down the road include BMW Group, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai Motor Company, Jaguar Land Rover, Kia Motors, Mitsubishi Motors, Nissan Motor Company, PSA Peugeot Citroën, Subaru, Suzuki and Toyota Motor Corp.
That’s great if you have an iPhone, bad luck if you don’t. Google has not been sitting back idly either. It has announced a slew of similar arrangements with car manufacturers for its Android OS as well.
Not to be left out, and seeing the potential of all this new ‘connected car’ activity, AT&T announced a special data package for buyers of Audi’s 2015 A3 offering speedy 4G LTE $99 for six months or $499 for 30 months. Under the previous (and still current, for some of the line-up) Audi Connect service, owners get T-Mobile 3G service for $30 a month, or $450 up front for 30 months.
General Motors has announced that next year's line-up with be available with built-in LTE and a dedicated AppShop that looks and feels like a rudimentary iOS App Store or Google Play, presenting a list of available apps that's called up by tapping an icon on the car's touchscreen.
Are you getting confused yet? Car makers setting up app stores, selling extra services for plans specifically designed for the car and not for a mobile phone, and who knows what’s next. They are starting to look a lot like an MVNO, don’t you think?
This also raises questions around safety. With all this connectivity and apps at the driver’s fingertips, won’t he or she be distracted? And how much time do people really spend in their cars anyway?
I’d hazard a guess and say that all this is about positioning for the inevitable and not too distant introduction of self-driving cars. Already approved in some US states, the self-driving car will revolutionize travel. Those wasted hours staring through the windscreen on the way to work or traveling between cities can now be utilized for more important and profitable pastimes like work, surfing the internet and watching Netflix!
No doubt the next wave of high-tech will be the use of the whole vehicle as an antenna to ensure maximum reception and connectivity for all these planned in-car activities.