News & Updates

What's holding back the connected car?

By James MacTavish / Mar 12, 2015

Car Industry Zpse03F5B60
For the past few years automakers have been promising time and time again that their infotainment screens will finally match the ease and functionality of typical iOS and Android phones. Time and time again though, consumers begin to realize the infotainment units in their brand new vehicles are far from perfect. A 2014 survey conducted by Consumer Reports highlighted that in-car electronics has now become a boon on automakers results in overall customer satisfaction reports seeing scores lower then they have been in the past few years. While automakers continue to invest heavily in projects and programs, connected vehicles are hindered in critical areas that impact customer expectations overall. Here are our top four reasons:
  1. The infrastructure for the connected car has not been fully realized yet
Google Play and the Apple App Store both generate billions of dollars in revenue for their developers but they didn’t always have this scale and revenue generation. At the onset of Google Play’s and the App Store’s launch both were desperate to reel in developers for their app ecosystem. Although the strategy and market for productizing pieces of software, games, entertainment and more in to “apps” was relevant, the on boarding and training of developers needed to streamlined. In-depth developer programs, dev portals, and more were created enabling developers to go full throttle with their creations. When comparing the mobile app economy to that of the connected car, one could argue that they are apples to oranges due to how mature the former is over the latter. Boiled down to its essentials though, the connected car has failed at embracing developers with open arms like that of the mobile ecosystem. Automakers are drastically stunted by the stringent safety guidelines that developers must adhere to for their app ecosystem. This has led auto makers to take a cautionary step and take on a one on one approach with developers to ensure the application they provide meets the requirements of the in car screen. This is costly, slow,and non intuitive. In addition to this glaring problem, is also the fact that automakers have not clearly identified how their in cart screens can be profitable and worthwhile for developers. Without the incentive nor the tools to facilitate app creation, the connected car ecosystem will continue to struggle with app support.
  1. Carrier plans and data plans poses issues to value and security
One of the biggest innovations to come to the connected car in recent years has been 4G network connectivity. With this 4G, drivers and passengers have access to high speed internet features within the vehicle and across their mobile devices. Although a very handy and innovative feature, the real question is whether consumers want another data plan added to their monthly expenses along with their phones, tablets, and cable plans. Another complexity to 4G is the fact that it’s not readily available globally making its business model a challenge in different countries. But the pricing and business model is not the only issue with 4g connectivity, a report from Massachusetts Senator Edward Markey detailed the US government’s successful hack of GM’s OnStar system to remotely control vehicle data and mechanical systems such as brakes and acceleration. This risk to driver’s vehicles will certainly factor into the development of apps and the connected car ecosystem as time goes on and if Senate ever imposes laws for automakers.
  1. The time to market is crippling
When comparing connected cars to that of the modern smart phone the technology divide has never been greater. The lifecycle of vehicles is typically higher than that of mobile phones which is replaced roughly every two years. Vehicles on the hand are driven upwards of 6 years, limiting the penetration of new connected car technology into the market. For as underwhelming as connected car systems have been since its inception, it’s certainly not for trying. Infotainment systems take years of planning, development, and testing before ever being installed on screen, and by then already lacking the needed hardware to match the power and performance of the driver much newer phones. This problem is compounded by the requirement to update these systems until end-of-life, robbing development hours away from better in-car innovations.
  1. Lack of standards makes the connected car a gamble for developers
The connected car market is well aware of the problems it faces in consumer satisfaction with many companies, start ups, mobile players, and more looking to solve the operating systems issues that don’t seem to go away. Open source initiatives like Automotive Grade Linux, GENIVI, and Autosar compete with mainstream offerings like Mirrorlink, Android Auto, and of course the big mobile player iOS. With the abundance of platforms, players, alliances, and backers, it’s not obvious to developers what the most viable option is for them or the safe bet. Choosing the incorrect solution is not only time consuming but detrimental to the sustainability of the majority of developers who can’t sustain major losses when releasing an app. Only when in car operating systems stabilize and a dominant ecosystem take place, will developers find the market to be worthwhile to support. The connected car may seem like a lost cause but it’s really not. Its struggles are not much different than the pains the mobile space felt in the early 2000’s, but once standards are set in place many of the key issues will naturally resolve themselves making for a lucrative and valuable market down the road.