If you thought talking on the phone hands free in your car was cool, brace yourself for what’s next. Your next car will be smart and connected–empowering safer driving and greater efficiency, serving up dynamic and interactive infotainment, and even be context-aware, automatically adjusting to your cockpit preferences.
Connected cars will access, consume, direct and share digital information between infrastructures, people, organizations and other mobile devices. As vehicles and devices are increasingly linked, they become intelligent, self-aware and eventually autonomous (you’ve heard about the self-driving car?). The connected car will be an extension of your smartphone, yet another mobile device (ok, a really, really big one) that will broaden your experiences and improve your ride.
Our appetites to be always-on is driving the demand for this connectivity, and the innovation, the investments and the partner deals are aligning to make it happen. The Consumer Electronics Association forecasts the market for factory-installed tech features in vehicles will grow 11 percent this year alone, to $8.7 billion. Big name automakers are placing bets on mobile devices and applications to fuel connectivity capabilities, making it easier for existing apps to talk to vehicles.
At CES, automakers showed how they’re leveraging smartphone features and services so that motorists will soon be able to control their in-vehicle experiences for both drivers and passengers, making the car more intuitive, enjoyable and safe. Mobile devices won’t just unlock the door and start the ignition, they’ll alert drivers if their vehicles have been hit or tampered with while parked, prove a safe track record to insurance companies, prepare drivers for a sharp turn ahead, and entertain the kids so that the words “are we there yet?” may never be heard again.
Advancing mobile connectivity
To ensure that smartphones from all manufacturers integrate with cars and to drive global in-vehicle innovation solutions forward faster, automakers, smartphone vendors and makers of display technologies formed the Car Connectivity Consortium (CCC). At CES, the consortium introduced MirrorLink, a technology standard for connecting smartphones to steering wheel controls, dashboard buttons and in-dash display screens. With this standard in place, the CCC is ready to turn its full attention to mobile app developers in an effort to saturate the global marketplace with MirrorLink-enabled apps.
“This is an incredibly exciting time in MirrorLink’s history because by the end of Q3, we’ll start to see an exponential rise in MirrorLink-certified apps,” said Jörg Brakensiek, chairman of the CCC’s Technical Workgroup in a press release. “The sooner this takes place, the sooner we’ll see more consumers with their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road.”
Nearly 70 percent of the world’s smartphone vendors, including Samsung, HTC and Nokia (though notably not Apple), and 80 percent of global automakers, including BMW, Ford, GM, Mercedes, Toyota, and Volkswagen are involved with the CCC to optimize the in-car experience. Though most apps are designed initially as lifestyle enhancements, eventually there will be features that access a vehicle’s driving frameworks, keep tabs on a car’s systems and maintenance needs, or monitor a driver’s acceleration habits and following distances, among other things.
Moving car apps forward
Validating this initiative, Ford and GM both announced developer programs for their in-car software platforms at CES, taking cues from the smartphone ecosystem for the dashboard and encourage independent app development for their cars. Ford is opening its existing and well-received SYNC connectivity and AppLink systems to interested mobile developers, while GM is allowing access to its platforms, including its OnStar In-Vehicle infotainment systems.
“When we first introduced SYNC in 2007, there was a need for an appropriate way to connect and control cellphones and digital music players in the car due to the massive consumer adoption trend,” said Ford’s VP of Engineering, Hau Thai-Tang, in a press release. “Now, with an even faster adoption rate of smartphones, there is a need for a renewed focus on voice control for the unique capabilities of these devices, especially for the use of apps.”
Rest assured that both car manufacturers and developers are focused on safety, so you won’t see mobile apps that involve distracting videos, games or excessive texts. They expect to see apps that alert drivers to, and direct them from, dangers that can’t be seen and communicate among moving cars to prevent them from colliding.
A car paired with your smartphone and filled with easy-to-use but not-too-distracting apps is where we’re headed, and you can get a preview of sorts with apps available today.
Aha Radio: Organizes your favorite Internet content, including radio channels, news, music, audio books, social media feeds and pod casts. Available for Android in select Acura, Ford, Honda, and Subaru vehicles and leading car stereos.
BeCouply: Suggests date ideas and directs couples to their destinations with turn-by-turn navigation. Available only for iOS (for now, but Android app soon) and select Ford vehicles equipped with SYNC AppLink, including Mustang, Fiesta, F-150 and Expedition.
BringGo: Provides full-function navigation, including turn-by-turn directions. Available in future versions of the Chevrolet Spark and Sonic vehicles.
Glympse: Allows drivers to share their location information with family and friends via email, SMS, Facebook or Twitter using voice commands. Available for Android and Windows phone in select Ford vehicles equipped with SYNC AppLink.
Greater Media: Listen to live streams of favorite radio stations from around the United States. Available for select Ford vehicles equipped with SYNC AppLink.
Inrix Inc.: A global parking navigation service that goes beyond standard points-of-interest notifications to provide the current cost to park, detailed parking location information and real-time space availability. Available in North America and 36 countries throughout Europe for Android and Windows Phones.
Kaliki: Radio talent reads audio versions of the most compelling articles from a variety of magazines and newspapers, including Shape Magazine, TV Guide, Men’s Fitness, OK! and Agence France-Presse. App is free and available for Ford vehicles equipped with SYNC AppLink.
OnStar: Provides real-time information from the car, including automatic crash response, navigation, roadside assistance, hands-free calling, remotely lock or unlock the car, vehicle telemetrics, gas mileage, tire pressure, and a wide variety of other services. Available for Android and more than 30 GM vehicle models.
Pandora: A free, personalized radio that plays music, news and comedy you want, creating customized play lists and radio stations based on what you like. Available for Android and most leading, late model car manufactures.
Parkopedia: Provides information on nearby parking garages, including pricing and real-time space availability, as well as navigation. Available in more than 40 countries, the app supports Android and Windows Phones.
Rhapsody: Lets drivers access songs through their phones, listen to any of the service’s 16 million titles without a connection by downloading a playlist to a mobile device accessible through the car. Available for Android and Windows Phone for Ford vehicles equipped with Sync AppLink
These apps are just a taste of what’s ahead of us. What are you looking forward to most? I can’t wait for my car to become a hot spot.
*Portions of this story were first published for myHTC