Telematics and local search: The next big thing

Telematics and local search: The next big thing

Consumers are eager for information relating to their location, whether they’re on foot, on public transport, or in the car. What’s the closest pizzeria to me? That’s the kind of question people want answered.

Search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo! are not quite there yet, mostly because of privacy issues.

Nevertheless, Gary Gale, director of engineering, Yahoo! Geo Technologies, believes “We're moving towards a truly ubiquitous contextual approach to location.” And that, Gale is convinced, offers the telematics industry an unparalleled market opportunity.

The passed is prologue

Road network-aware location services are particularly ripe for investment, says Gale.

Information about what’s coming up ahead—a gas station, say, or a diner—is valuable for a driver and relatively easy to provide through a local business search.

Indeed, many PNDs and navigation apps already offer such capabilities.

What they can’t do, says Gale, is tell you that the diner you passed five minutes ago is still the closest one to you, and that if you take the next off ramp, it’s a short half mile back down the access road, which also happens to pass by a local shopping mall.

“People haven't yet solved the problem of where you’re going to be,” Gale says.

“We can pretty much work out where you are. We can pretty much work out where you've been, but not where you want to be half an hour from now.”

Navigation services have arrived in force on mobile handsets this year, rocking Garmin’s and TomTom’s market share.

Gale thinks it won’t be long before the mobile world catches on to local navigation services, too.

“If telematics wants to be in the game, they need to start looking at this now,” he says.

“They don't want to wait until the Googles, the Yahoo!s, and the Bings of the world get in, because once they've done that it's game over.”

Hopes not Dash-ed

The best telematics solutions for local search will be apps that run on smartphones, as well as services that sit on the Internet and allow smartphones to connect to them, according to Gale.

Dash Navigation was on the right track with offering locally relevant information from Yahoo! Local Search and other websites, Gale continues.

Problem was, Dash was selling a dedicated device that came with a premium at a time when the economy was tanking.

The company stopped selling products, including its Internet-connected service, in November of 2008.

“Upscale devices like that are always the first thing that fall in a recession,” says Gale.

“But the approach they were taking—providing information updates to you in the car—was very prescient.”

Gale believes that telematics companies that pick up where Dash left off will thrive in the local search era.

To embed or not to embed?

Embedded solutions won’t be as successful, Gale forecasts.

“Telematics companies have the opportunity to be way out in front on this, but they have to work with the devices their consumers already have and won’t have to pay twice for,” he says.

Consumers heavily lean towards smartphones, not in-car infotainment, and local search is changing so fast it will be impossible for embedded solutions to keep up.

Not everyone agrees.

In-car infotainment experts see the smartphone as a technology that can accelerate user comfort—with features like personal navigation, points of interest, and road network-aware services—and help transition the public towards cars fully outfitted with state-of-the-art infotainment systems.

“At the moment, the smart phone is a viable data pipe that allows for dynamic content and services to be brought into the vehicle,” says Roger Jollis, director OEM and mobile marketing, Garmin.

“But in my opinion, this is a transitory application.”

It comes down to cost and utility, Jollis says.

As embedded communication systems become less expensive and more powerful, their value will outmatch that of tethered smartphones with data plans and potentially costly roaming charges.

For more on smartphones and embedded systems, see ‘What is the best way to deliver in-car telematics?’Click hereand ‘The smartphone: Friend or foe of in-car infotainment?’ Click here

Whether local search telematics solutions become more prevalent on smartphones or in embedded systems, Gale believes growth will be rapid and adoption swift.

The first generation of in-car portable GPS units hit the market in 1996.

“If anybody had told you that 14 years later you'd be running something infinitely more sophisticated and more customizable on a device that stuck into your pocket and, by the way, connected to this fledgling thing called the Internet and was a telephone as well, you would never have believed them,” Gale says.

“Technology moves so fast. And the location area is moving so fast. All we can do is learn from the lessons of the last five years and see how quickly this technology growth accelerates once it reaches critical mass.”

To read TU’s Executive Viewpoint interview with Gary Gale, Click hereand with Roger Jollis. Click here

Andrew Tolve is a regular contributor to TU.

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