Telematics: The demand for in-car apps

Telematics: The demand for in-car apps

Conventional wisdom has it that the most popular trends start first in the US, then make their way to Europe a few weeks, months, or even years later. When it comes to in-car apps, conventional wisdom has been turned on its head.

Smartphone use took off in Europe first, and Europeans have come to expect the technology that works in their homes and offices to work in their cars, too. Consumers use their phones to connect laptops to the Web, and European manufacturers are producing apps to allow users to plug into a car’s telematics system, turning the handsets’ 3G connection into a wifi contact point. Users also benefit from connecting in the car via existing phone service contracts, obviating the need for additional monthly subscription fees.

Now, as US phone systems get up to 3G speed, American drivers are beginning to demand the same convenient, always-on connectivity. With the advent of 4G vehicle-based systems—which work in tandem with GPS or the Galileo satellite network tracking and road safety apps like the European Union’s proposed eCall system—telematics-enabled apps are likely to become even more popular. “Companies are rushing to launch smartphone applications, with new solutions being announced almost on a daily basis for in-car use,” according to Wireless Connectivity Market Data, a recent ABI Research report. (For more on apps, see ‘Telematics and in-car apps: Making infotainment cost-effective’, ‘Telematics and connectivity: Which comes first, the app or the money?’ and ‘In-car telematics services: There’s an app for that’.)

Growing demand in Europe

According to a recent Frost & Sullivan survey of almost 2,000 consumers in Italy, the UK, France, and Germany, 70% of respondents already have steering wheel controls in their cars. Demand is predicted to grow to 91% of all cars by the end of the decade. Demand for touchscreen controls will rise from 31% now to 88% over the same period.

European carmakers are also using mobile communications to provide automatic updates for music or other in-car entertainment content, via 3G and 4G. (For more on 4G, see ‘Will LTE lead the 4G revolution?’; for more on human-machine interfaces like touchscreens and steering wheel controls, check out TU’s Human-Machine Interface Report.) Saab, for instance, is incorporating Android apps into its IQon in-car entertainment system. The IQon system connects to the Internet via a pre-installed modem that powers up as soon as the driver starts the engine rather than radio frequency technology, which only gives consumers a stream of basic data.

US-based Telemetria recently announced the launch of its DashTop technology platform in Europe. “The deployment of 4G is a vector of growth for the smart and connected car,” explains Kaveh Hushyar, CEO of Telemetria, a maker of in-car apps. “4G was developed with vehicular applications in mind, so it is not a surprise that the strong activity in 4G is one of the driving forces behind the demand for our DashTop technology.”

Growing demand in the US, too

“As consumers want to bring their digital lifestyles into the vehicle, the challenge for the industry is how to do this in a safe and quick manner and offer more intelligent and connected applications to their in-vehicle infotainment systems,” says Phil Ames, director of in-vehicle infotainment, Embedded and Communications Group, Intel Corporation. US developers are responding to similar demand in similar ways.

TuneLink, for example, connects drivers’ Android devices to their car stereos, via either an auxiliary input or the FM transmitter. The device plays stored or streaming content through the car’s sound system. Users can also choose their Android devices’ own music player or a third-party music app such as Pandora.

US developers are also taking a leaf from eCall’s book by providing roadside assistance apps like the one from Mazda, which automatically alerts the nearest tow truck when an accident or breakdown takes place and provides an estimate of when help will arrive. Voice-activated apps are taking off in the US, too.

Vlingo Corporation announced late last year that its Vlingo InCar system will be available as an Android app, allowing users to receive and send text messages without taking their hands off the wheel or their eyes off the road. “These solutions offer fast and effective business advantages,” says Nick McQuire, research director, enterprise mobility at International Data Corporation. Trends may come and go at different speeds in Europe and the US, but consumers on both sides of the Atlantic definitely want their apps.

Jeremy Slater is a regular contributor to TU.

For more on apps, join the industry’s key players at Content & App for Automotive Europe 2012.

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