Content and Apps for Automotive USA 2013: Day Two

Wake-up call to the auto apps industry: Consumers don't want more apps.

That was the disconcerting message delivered by Andrew Hart, head of advanced research for SBD, on day two of Content and Apps for Automotive USA 2013, a two-day Telematics Update conference in San Francisco this week.

Earlier this year, SBD conducted a couple of usability and customer satisfaction studies on connected car systems in Europe, the United States and China, and it found awareness of connected services among owners of cars with telematics sorely lacking.

For example, 41% of Hyundai owners never used Blue Link, more than a third of GM owners never touched their connected vehicle services, and around 25% of Ford drivers never launched SYNC.

"We are spending billions to develop features and functions that aren't being used," Hart told the audience composed of folks who are in the business of creating, enabling and distributing apps for cars.

Creating more or better apps is not the answer, he said. While automakers scramble to add premium features and apps, in hopes of making their cars more attractive and, perhaps, gaining some revenue from subscriptions or app sales, SDB found that consumers were actually looking for fewer apps.

"Twenty eight percent of comments related to there being too many features or them being too complex,” Hart said. “Zero complained there were not enough features."

App control

In other news, there was a pushback to the idea that the smartphone will remain the primary source of content and apps in the car, something that was a major theme on day one of the conference.

(For coverage of day one of the conference, see Content and Apps for Automotive USA 2013: Day One.) 

Egil Juliussen, research director analyst, automotive infotainment & telematics, IHS Automotive, said he believes there will be a hybrid approach, with some apps created and branded by OEMs, to be delivered via branded or third-party app stores, and many more provided by independent mobile developers.

But, even if apps and content come from third-party providers or run on paired smartphones, they will be integrated behind the scenes and deliver their functionality into what will appear to the driver as a seamless user experience.

This strategy will allow automakers to leapfrog the smartphone/apps model and create something new that is better suited to the car and more functional, according to Rudolf Streif, director of embedded solutions for The Linux Foundation.

Today, he said, the smartphone experience is much better than that of in-car systems. But much more can be done in the car with app integration. For example, if a driver finds a business on Yelp, why couldn't its address be automatically sent to the navigation system? Streif asked. "We need a services framework and an integrated approach – but one that you can customize," he said.

Data central

That integrated approach could extend beyond the car, according to Konstantin Zervas, director of business development, Ericsson. Ericsson provides Cloud services not only for automakers, such as Volvo, but for other industries, including healthcare, transportation and insurance.

"We have a connected marketplace vision to allow developers to use APIs from various industries in order to provide cross-industry solutions,” he said.

For example, if someone purchased an airline ticket through a travel app, a mobile operator could offer the traveler a choice of roaming data plans for the trip. "Because Ericsson works with so many different industries, it can provide more interesting data access," Zervas said.

When less is more

Aside from automakers wanting to create a more elegant connected experience, safety and security issues lingered.

In an audience poll by Rob Gee, product line manager, Continental Automotive, 80% said the vehicle should restrict consumers' choice to select applications. Gee noted that, in the United States, most vehicles have only one occupant, the driver. Therefore, he said, apps must assume that the user is the driver – and be designed not to distract. This may also mean limiting what's available while the car is in motion.

Judging by SBD’s findings, that may actually be a welcome change. According to SBD’s Hart, the first thing on the agenda at OEM's app design meetings should be, "What can we remove?"

"The future isn't in providing more content,” he said. “It's in changing the way we deliver it. This is the killer app."

Susan Kuchinskas is a regular contributor to TU.

For all the latest telematics trends, check out Consumer Telematics Show 2014 on Jan. 6 in Las Vegas, Telematics for Fleet Management Europe 2014 on March 12-13 in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, Content and Apps for Automotive Europe 2014 on April 8-9 in Munich, Germany, Telematics Detroit 2014 on June 4-5 in Novi, Michigan, and V2X and Auto Safety USA 2014 on July 8-9 in Novi, Michigan.

For exclusive telematics business analysis and insight, check out TU’s reports: Telematics Connectivity Strategies Report 2013The Automotive HMI Report 2013Insurance Telematics Report 2013 and Fleet & Asset Management Report 2012.

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