Section 508

November 10th, 2014

What’s the killer app for the car?

In our summary from the Mobile World Congress this year we talked a lot about the number of smart cars on display and the lack of apps. Last year Apple launched Apple CarPlay which was later followed by Google’s Android Auto.

So what’s happened since and what’s the killer car app?

Last week while in San Francisco I took the opportunity to ask people in the industry and this is what I found out.

1. Cars are getting connected

Most of the car manufacturers are putting SIMs and WiFi by companies such as Novero in their higher end models. This is great as the mobile signal, and thus data connection, is better with an external antenna which means better coverage. It also means that the car is always connected and can provide information to the owner and driver even when there is no one in the car. The flip side is that the car requires an additional mobile connection and a lot of car buyers are choosing not to activate it.

2. Control and navigation

Safety is the number one priority in cars and driving and therefore the car manufacturers are combining voice control with touch screens to help navigate and access information. Unfortunately most car voice control systems are bad and the touch screens display and navigation lack the quality of the iPhone or Samsung Galaxy devices. This is a clear barrier for uptake.

3. Proprietary car apps vs Apple CarPlay and Android Auto

Another barrier for uptake is the lack of apps for the proprietary smart car systems. Most app developers simply cannot afford to invest in yet another platform like QNX. This is why the car manufacturers agreed to launch Apple CarPlay and Android Auto although with major restrictions. iOS and Android developers don’t get access to any information from the car but can only use the navigation and audio system of the car. In addition to this Apple and Google requires additional approval for car apps.

So if you want access to fuel consumption, speed, last service and other items then the only way you can do it is through the car manufacturers proprietary platforms. It’s interesting to note however that almost nothing has been said about QNX car application development platform in the past year.

4. Security

The biggest barriers for car apps after safety is security. What would happen if someone hacked let’s say 10,000 cars and did an override of the auto pilot to accelerate or deactivate the breaks? This is the main reasons that access to car features is extremely limited for 3rd party apps.

5. So what apps exist today?

Apple CarPlay offers Maps, Phone, iMessage and various music apps such as Podcasts, iHeartRadio and Spotify. The portfolio is very limited so far but growing. The Android portfolio is very similar as the functionality enabled (media) is the same but with more apps as they have been less restrictive with who they approve.

In addition to this you have the proprietary car platform apps including features such as navigation, weather and media and that’s pretty much it.

Maybe the most sophisticated and useful apps come from car information startups such as Automatic, Mojio, Dash and Truvulo. They connect to the car through an open standard plug (underneath the wheel) using their own hardware or 3rd party hardware and provide car information such as fuel consumption, speed, driving behaviour, health of the car and more. This is then used to provide apps for tracking safe driving (by teenagers among others), fuel consumption and car location.

6. What will be the killer app of the future?
We spent a lot of time debating this with industry players and the biggest challenge is that there is a big difference between what the car manufacturers want vs the consumers. The car manufacturers want more data from the cars such as utilisation, driving behaviour, safety, fuel consumption, location tracking, collecting road information, etc., as they can use this to improve the cars, service and sell data to third parties.

Consumers on the other hand need to be incetivised to give up data about themselves and none of the existing car apps are good enough for this. The kind of apps that consumers are looking for today are around navigation, music, car safety for their driving teenagers, traffic information (including police controls), weather, maintenance and service (once per year) and keeping the car secure.

So what’s the killer car app? Maybe it’s Google’s self-driving cars after all so we can spend our time blogging and not worry about driving at all?

Tags: automotive mobile apps

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