Telematics and the mechanics of the app store

In their quests to reach younger consumers with more technology and infotainment choices while collaborating with policy makers in reducing traffic accidents, carmakers are eyeing the app store concept. It's working remarkably well for Apple, after all. (For more on apps, see Telematics: Making the most of the app opportunity and Apple's App Store as a model for telematics.)

Continental says its AutoLinQ Application Store will be "available soon," while Mercedes-Benz USA recently launched mbrace2, the next generation of its telematics service that will allow for remote update of software modules, “so mbrace2 users always have the latest technology in their vehicles and at their fingertips." Says Roger Lanctot, associate director of global automotive for Strategy Analytics, "I think carmakers are trying to enable the car as the fourth screen and build a personal cloud platform for drivers that they could manage from mobile or fixed devices, a world that has access to all of the user's contextual information, preferences, contacts, etc."

Management problems

The problem with offering full-blown app stores is simple: management. OEMs have not developed expertise in testing, validating, delivering, updating and (maybe someday) billing for them. There may be partners outside the automotive space that are up to the task. "Mobile application management focuses on what is the best and most secure way to get mobile apps delivered onto devices in a way that makes it easy and productive for the end user,” says Sam Liu, vice president of marketing for Partnerpedia. “If you think of a car as a gigantic mobile device, the same concepts could apply.”

Partnerpedia runs Enterprise App Zone, a mobile application management solution for organizations that want to establish a private app store. It offers privately branded app marketplaces that provide end users with direct access to applications designed for specific platforms. Partnerpedia doesn't serve any automotive customers, but its offerings serve current customers in ways that are analogous.

In a white paper aimed at corporate IT decision-makers, Partnerpedia asks questions that are quite relevant for automakers and embedded device manufacturers. "IT" has been switched to "the auto industry" in the following:

"How can [the auto industry] maintain control over corporate policies and procedures while giving users a certain amount of flexibility and choice that they've become accustomed to in the consumer mobile world? [The auto industry] is being pushed by end users to loosen its grip and provide an experience to which users have become accustomed in the consumer world; one that gives the individual freedom to select the best apps for them, immediately accessible, and easy-to-use."

Sound familiar?

Enterprise apps stores focus on applications and the users of those applications. That includes app provisioning, vetting, distribution, and user and license management. In fact, according to Partnerpedia, enterprise apps stores are starting to deliver not only applications but also content.

Partnerpedia's solution lets corporate IT staff—or automakers, service providers, and TSPs—control what users have access to through the establishment of a secure, internal app store that includes only approved apps. Apps go through a formal vetting process and their distribution is regulated through user and/or license management.

Partnerpedia can manage both company-issued and brought-in devices; in the automotive scenario, the car is like a company-issued device. In these devices, some applications are automatically embedded while others might be optional. End users (or drivers) could browse the OEM's branded app store to see what else is available. "But the OEM would want to control it, because you want to totally test out the app and make sure it doesn't break the system," Liu says. "Through our private app store, the company can publish apps it authorizes." These apps could be developed internally or sourced from one or more third parties. 


In the enterprise, IT administrators can group employees by roles or functions and apply policies at the group level instead of a one-to-one basis. In the auto telematics sector, this would allow the automaker or telematics service provider to provide different apps to different subscriber bases or to the same user in different roles. Some applications might not be applicable to the driver, but they would be to the passenger.

Partnerpedia allows context-sensitive security based on time or location, as well. In the car, Liu says, rules could be based on location or movement to cause the screen to be completely disabled when the car was in motion. Its system could let end-users set extra rules, such as disabling apps when the car is in motion.

A related service that could help automakers create branded app stores is Verious, a marketplace for mobile application components. It includes a license management platform to enable the licensing of pre-built, pre-tested mobile app components, mobile app component source code, mobile SDKs from third-party developers and technology companies, and private-label and white-label apps for enterprises.

Speed development

Verious is a B2B play, and in its case, consumers wouldn't browse the marketplace, but internal and third-party app developers could quickly select vetted building blocks for telematics services. "For example, we have inventory of components for things like voice recognition and voice recording. Each is a pre-built module someone can use so they don't have to do all that coding and work on their own," says Anil H.P. Pereira, Verious CEO.

While Verious is another company not working in the automotive sector, Pereira says that his service offers many classes of components that could help app companies and automakers speed development without spending tens of thousands of dollars, including filtering, navigation, operating systems, security and payments.

"We would be able to slice and dice the existing inventory for automotive and source things of interest for that industry," he thinks. That includes some less-than-obvious items, for example, cloud storage. If you have an app in a vehicle with voice recognition ability, drivers could record store notes by speaking and store them in Dropbox, he suggests, using the Dropbox API wrapper.

Partnerpedia and Verious are not the only white-label app store vendors out there, but automotive is not a ball companies like this have their eyes on. In fact, none of the other vendors contacted by TU could be bothered to respond to interview requests. If carmakers are waiting to be pitched, they'll have a long wait. Says Liu, "Technically we can do all this. We've just never looked at cars before."

Maybe it's time for a look?

Susan Kuchinskas is a regular contributor to TU.

For more on apps and other in-car content, see Telematics: What’s next for apps and services, part I, Telematics: What’s next for apps and services, part II and Will ‘freemium’ work for telematics apps?

For more all the latest telematics trends, visit Content & Apps for Automotive 2012 on April 18-19 in Germany and Telematics Detroit 2012 on June 6-7.

For exclusive telematics business analysis and insight, check out TU’s reports on In-Vehicle Smartphone Integration Report, Human Machine Interface Technologies and Smart Vehicle Technology: The Future of Insurance Telematics.

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