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The Connected Car Revolution - are we there yet? 4 Insights I gained from the Apps World Connected Car Panel Discussion

By James MacTavish / November 24, 2015

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Last week I had the pleasure of exhibiting at Apps World London, which also featured our connected car partner Jaguar Land Rover, showcasing their latest in-car infotainment called InControl Touch Pro (read more about our partnership here). While the show covered innovations and trends in apps and technology for gaming, mobility, smart homes, and the internet of things, it also featured panel discussions around current issues and topics each industry vertical is facing today.

In a panel discussion titled “The Connected Car Revolution - are we there yet?” our Head of Business Development EMEA Thomas Mercier joined representatives from Ford and Volvo Car Group to discuss some of biggest questions facing connected cars. Debating topics like the future of vehicle led app stores and the role of Apple and Google in driving innovation in the car, the panel discussion derived some fascinating and market-validating points on the state of the connected car. The following are the top 4 takeaways I gathered from the discussion.

1) Fragmentation is still the biggest challenge for auto manufacturers

Drawing parallels to the fragmentation found in the telco industry during the early years of apps and content, Ford’s Scott Lyons and Volvo’s David Holecek were transparent in outlining fragmentation as a main blocker for today’s connected vehicles. Like the telco industry, which was challenged with an enormous spectrum of devices of varying power and capabilities, the connected car landscape is faced with fragmentation of both platform and the detriment of smartphones overshadowing the connected car experience. What was clear to all the panel members was one of the best solutions to overcoming fragmentation is ensuring developers have the opportunity and support to easily develop and bring their existing apps to new connected car platforms much like they do for other smart devices. To be successful, this support would not just be for the large established app services like Spotify but also the smaller boutique app development companies exploring new innovations that could be leveraged in the car. As Scott Lyons detailed, “We took a 112-year-old company and went open source. Times have changed and the only way to be successful is to embrace developers, create a proper communication channel, and support them as they bring great new services to our vehicles.”

2) Disruptors are changing the way people view cars and ownership

In the past, automakers have only considered their competitors to be other automakers, but this is no longer the case when considering the options available to today’s drivers. Consumers now have a variety of choices from Uber to Car2Go to ride-sharing programs and more. Choices like these have made it not only easy to drive cost-effectively, but also utilize the benefits of a car without actually owning one. As Ford and Volvo stressed, the key to redefining what it means to own a vehicle is providing an in-car service that brings more to the life of the consumer beyond just travelling from point A to B. Whether the service brings convenience, efficiencies, or something you could never do with your vehicle before, automakers are more willing than ever to change the perception of car ownership and experiment with new ownership benefits.

3) Android Auto and Car Play is not the be all end all

With the panel discussion centered on the key challenges of fragmentation and disruption, one of the most discussed portions was on Android Auto and Car Play and whether or not they were the answer to the challenges of the connected car. While adopting Android Auto and Car Play as the sole in-car experience would solve the fragmentation issue, they lack two essential components every automaker wants, control of the data and management of their brand experience. While it’s true that both Ford and Volvo, as well as most other auto manufacturers today, support the two services in their cars alongside their in-car infotainment experience, Android Auto and Car Play are more a stop gap solution rather than the definitive answer. By withdrawing their own infotainment experience and relying completely on Android Auto and Car Play, automakers are left with no control over the safety of the vehicle, the invaluable analytical data that can be used to continuously improve the in-car experience, and most importantly the competitive advantage that comes from a branded experience that today’s tech savvy consumers desire.

4) Vehicle led app stores are essential to the security of the in-car experience

With recent news surrounding the hacking of vehicles, security around the connected car experience was a topic Ford and Volvo understood will always be a serious challenge present in the industry. An interesting factor that both automakers noted was, although they embrace the developer community and the benefits of open source, the true line of defence for security will always be in the walled garden of applications and services automakers provide to their users. By maintaining control of the apps and services accessed by their drivers, automakers can leverage their in-car app showcase to provide a safe and secure app experience that they can monitor and even update when needed. Wherever vehicles go in the future, the concerns of security will always be a priority of automakers and vehicle led app stores will still be a critical component to ensuring that safety.

The Apps World Connected Car Panel Discussion ultimately highlighted the growing pains experienced by automakers as they look to take on the challenges of in-car smartphone derived experiences like Android Auto and Car Play, the fragmentation of platforms, the constant threat of security breaches, and the disruption of Uber and other car-sharing services that their consumers now have access to. As poignantly expressed by David Holechek of Volvo, “It’s never been a better time and worse time to buy a vehicle, best because of all the advancements in connectivity options, but also the worst because in 1 to 2 years you will know it’s going to be so much better”.