Telematics and content sourcing strategies, part I

Is it feasible, or even desirable, for car manufacturers and telematics service providers to use surveys to determine country-to-country or regional differences among car owners in order to tailor their offering of apps and content?

The answer to that question is hardly immaterial since, according to the global technology market intelligence company ABI Research, the number of in-car app downloads will jump from around 12 million at the end of 2012 to 4.3 billion in 2018, which is forecast to generate an estimated $1.67 billion in global revenues.

In a number of different ways, car OEMs have already begun tailoring their app and content offerings to local market conditions. BMW, for example, operates three AppCenters — in Munich, Shanghai and Mountain View, California — to coordinate app development and pursue a greater degree of localization of connected services.

But they could take things to a far more granular level if conditions were right, which they are not yet. 

(For more on in-car apps, see Making the most of the app opportunity, part I and Making the most of the app opportunity, part II.)

Building the picture

Emmanuel Bonbon, general manager for ADAS, telematics and multimedia, Renault, says that the questions are “up to date,” and that his company is working on it, but that it still has no real data, and its aims regarding the issue are “not yet mature enough to be displayed.”

According to Andrew Hart of the London-based automotive technology consultancy SBD, “there are many difficulties in doing surveys on new technologies.”

“For one thing, it’s hard to get serious conclusions,” he says. Still, he believes that surveys are an interesting approach to get a picture of emerging markets, and could be useful in understanding the “life situations and personality types” of the people who make up these markets.

SBD, for example, found security to be important in Malaysia, which has a high rate of vehicle theft, whereas social networking was important to Indonesians, who are very sociable. Similar differences can be found within Europe, Hart says, though it is often taken together as a single region.

Situations, personality types

Hart categorizes differences among groups of drivers into “situations” and “personality types.”

As an example of the former, Hart cites Volvo’s introduction in Scandinavia of a remote-heating mobile phone app with its OnCall service. “It had a massive impact on its subscription rate in northern Europe,” Hart says. A complementary situational move would be offering remote air conditioning in Mediterranean countries, for example.

Predicting personality features is more difficult, Hart says, since “you are trying to generalize types.” “That’s why it is always important to work with local providers,” he says.

As another example of a country-specific app Hart cites the speed-camera locator marketed by Coyote in France, which is set to have as many as 4,200 speed cameras on its roads. “It has a huge subscription base in France, but not in Germany or Switzerland,” Hart notes. One reason for this is that speed-camera detectors are illegal in Germany and Switzerland. However, the device is also not in demand in the United States, simply because speed cameras are not widely used there.

Stolen vehicle tracking is another service that provides a solution to a country-specific problem. This is a desirable service in Italy or Brazil, Hart says, but not in Germany. “In Germany, stolen cars get full value from insurance companies, so drivers don’t want the car returned to them,” he explains.

Standardization of IVI platforms is key

Dominique Bonte, vice president and practice director, connected vehicles and ITS research practice, at ABI Research, says before an effective strategy for the marketing of apps and content can be finalized, in-car platforms must be standardized.

“At the moment, HMI [Human Machine Interface] is very fragmented for every car maker,” he says. “Every car maker designed HMI individually.” What that means, Bonte says, is that apps need to be adapted to each HMI. “We need open-ended standardized platforms, so that the end user can just download content.”

As an example, he points to GENIVI, a non-profit association dedicated to fostering the broad adoption of an open-sourced, in-vehicle infotainment platform that could be used with different car makers and models.

In a white paper, titled “Connected Car Business Model,” published in August by Telematics Update, a number of specialists in the field say standardization is the way to proceed.

Easier said than done

“Everyone agrees that standardized in-vehicle infotainment platforms would greatly benefit the automotive industry, reducing development costs, accelerating times to market and encouraging innovation through the sharing of resources and ideas,” says Paul Hedtke, senior director-business development, Qualcomm. “Yet, there are few signs of convergence taking place despite the recent emergence of a number of promising concepts.”

Among these, he mentions GENIVI and MirrorLink’s smartphone replication technology. The reason for the industry’s hesitation, Hedtke says, is that car makers are “still wary of brand dilution and compromising data security through open-source innovation.”

“Interoperability is key,” says Rudolf Streif, director, embedded solutions, for the Linux Foundation. “Consumers pay for content and platforms deliver content. Consumers do not want to make a platform decision to get the content that they want. There is no need to repeat the BluRay versus HD DVD battle. No single OEM is large enough to drive a platform and attract sufficient content providers and app developers.”

(For more on GENIVI and MirrorLink, see The smartphone as a model for telematics HMIs, part I and The smartphone as a model for telematics HMIs, part II.)

Return next Tuesday for part II of the series.

Siegfried Mortkowitz is a regular contributor to TU.

For all the latest telematics trends, check out Telematics Japan/China 2013 on Oct. 8-10 in Tokyo, Telematics Munich 2013 on Nov. 11-12 in Munich, Germany, Telematics for Fleet Management USA 2013 on Nov. 20-21 in Atlanta, Georgia, and Content and Apps for Automotive USA 2013 on Dec. 11-12 in San Francisco.

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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