Content & Apps for Automotive Europe: Beyond the app store

Content & Apps for Automotive Europe: Beyond the app store

No sooner has the automotive industry gotten its head around in-car apps than it has started moving away from them.

The idea is not so much to eliminate apps – consumers love them on their smartphones, and they now expect them in their cars as well. It is, rather, to present their content-rich offerings in a way that does not distract the driver. 

The 30,000-foot view on how to do this was presented half-way through day one of Content & Apps for Automotive Europe 2013, a two-day Telematics Update conference in Munich, by Aumo Antii, vice president for marketing and communications at Ixonos.

According to him, auto OEMs and head unit manufacturers are making a mistake when trying to replicate the smartphone app model in the car, with home screen upon home screen of apps.

Instead, they should conflate most app content and services around things that really matters to the driver: getting from point A to point B, multimedia, communication and simple task management, such as making a calendar entry or recording a reminder.
Antii grouped them into four neat categories: Places, Media, People and Me.
Places, Media, People and Me
“When I’m driving, I don’t want to switch endlessly between apps,” he said. ”If the display is full of apps, like in a smartphone, it is too distracting. I do not have the time to travel across rows and columns of apps with my eyes. If the apps are organised hierarchically so that I see, for example, only three apps at a time, my fingers do not have the time to navigate back and forth in endless menus and sub-levels of apps, apps and more apps. So, tens of apps in my head unit? No, thanks!”
Having one app per one use case is just as bad, Antii continued.
”Want to listen to some songs on my smartphone’s memory card? Start the music player app," he said. "Want to switch to my music streaming service? Start my Spotify app. Want to listen to some Internet radio? Start my radio player app. Hear a song I like? Start Shazam app to recognize it. Apps and more apps! What if it was all integrated? And switching from one to another was as seamless as hopping from one radio station to another?”


Beyond an icon on the screen

The sentiment was echoed by other speakers.

Speaking on a panel dedicated to integrating popular consumer content, Bruce Hazan, a senior solutions engineer at Facebook, and Rory Kenny, director of mobile partnerships EMEA at TripAdvisor, both said they would like to see their services deeply integrated into products like navigation or multimedia.

For now, that is largely wishful thinking.

”When we sit down with engineers, we get very excited, we have a lot of very interesting ideas,” Hazan said. “But, in the end, in terms of the latest kinds of integrations that I have seen … it’s more about, unfortunately, if can call this, a marketing stunt than actually trying to get it [right]. Sometimes it feels like it’s copy and paste of what the other manufacturers are doing instead of trying to actually innovate.

"What we would like to see is really Facebook as a service that is deeply integrated, meaning it’s not just an app that I launch. Because, at the end of the day, if I buy a high-end car, I will most probably have a smartphone. … Do you actually want to replicate that experience, or do you want to create something new?"

(For more on integrating social media, see The making of a social car, part I and The making of a social car, part II.)

Siegfried Schuler, director connected services, technical sales Europe, at Harman’s infotainment division, said his company was exploring another way: presenting content as themed radio stations, rather than apps. “We try to turn web content into radio-like experience,” he said. “The radio is the benchmark.”

Even Renault, whose R-Link app store is barely six months old, said it was open to smartphone-like apps being a mere stepping stone in the continued evolution of the connected car.

“We talk about apps because it’s the technology of today, but maybe in five years we will come back here, and we will have a new generation,” said Emmanuel Bonbon, Renault’s general manager ADAS – telematics, multimedia. “The main thing we have to do is prepare ourselves to adapt ourselves.”

(For more on Renault and other automotive app stores, see Making the most of the app opportunity, part I and Making the most of the app opportunity, part II.)

Looking ahead

According to Roger Lanctot, associate director for automotive multimedia & communications service at Strategy Analytics, automotive app stores can well function as a short-term fix.

“Everybody is looking for a quick fix, a quick solution, something with a little bit of sizzle that will help them sell cars and get them as many different value propositions happening as quickly as possible,” he said. “They perceive that as the app store in the car.”

However, the longer vision is not as much about apps in the car as it is about services residing in the cloud and interacting with each other, he said.

“Then you get a fused, hybrid experience in the car via HTML5, or at the very least through the phone," he explained. "Maybe you still have a screen somewhere, where there are dozens of apps that you can see. But think of them more as settings, and, really, in the end, they are just services. I want to have location services running in the background, I want weather, I want POI information, I want my Facebook check-in working, I want recommendations because I am going out tonight.

"Or maybe these things just get nominated by virtue of the system learning your behavior. [It’s] the Android proposition that you have with Nexus, where it just learns what you like, what you do, where you go, and then it gives you what you need, when you need it.”

Paying for apps

Driver distraction issues are not alone in driving things forward. There is also business logic to not having a separate app for everything. “The way the app business is run today is too expensive,” Antii said.

One reason is fragmentation of in-vehicle infotainment platforms, which makes makes apps expensive to develop and support. Another is a small user base, which means auto OEMs and head unit manufacturers have to pay for app development themselves.

“You cannot make it into a business, even if you can charge a little bit of a fee for some popular services,” Antii said. “There is too much work to get it up and running, and to maintain it.”

It came, therefore, as little surprise that the question of who pays for all the apps and content was foremost on everybody’s mind.

Building global service delivery platforms to leverage the many non-differentiating parts of apps was one answer. “The approach is to reach the biggest number, the profitability will only come from that,” Bonbon said. “We must make those applications for the whole range of all cars, for ten years. If we don’t do this, it’s not going to work.”

Another answer was to focus on the essentials, things that help the driver do his job. “We shouldn’t do all sorts of long-tail things while failing to fulfill the basic needs,” said Reinhard Jurk, head of business development at BMW. “A mobile phone is designed to get the full attention of the customer, a car is designed to be driven. … We need to have a good coverage of applications that are available for the driver while driving.”

Obigo, the Korea-based, web service company, showed how in-car apps can be built for less by using existing web pages and smartphone apps. All that’s needed is a tool that extracts the essential information and presents it within a car-compatible template, said David Hwang, Obigo's CEO.

And HTML5 received a fresh look for its ability to overcome the many problems the automotive industry faces when rolling out apps and content across multiple operating systems and platforms. In fact, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) now has an automotive-focused working group. Launched in February 2013, it is one of the fastest growing groups within W3C, with almost 40 companies as members.

An unplowed field

Despite all the talk of the need to focus on making the in-car app proposition a profitable one, Bonbon likes the idea of Renaul's app store providing niche products such the R-Sound Effect, which simulates a variety of engine sounds, from a rally car to the flying saucer. “It’s a small change, but it can have a huge impact on how the car is perceived,” he said.  

And he cautioned against thinking of in-car apps too narrowly, too soon.“Regarding the driver, you are not going to invent so many applications,” he said. “But I still think we have a wide field, which we are only starting to dig.”

Jan Stojaspal is the editor of Telematics Update.

For all the latest telematics trends, check out V2V & V2I for Auto Safety USA 2013 on July 9-10 in Novi, MI, Insurance Telematics USA 2013 on September 4-5 in Chicago, Telematics Russia 2013 in September in Moscow, Telematics LATAM 2013 in September in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Telematics Japan 2013 on October 8-10 in Tokyo and Telematics Munich 2013 on November 11-12.

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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