The making of a social car, part I

The making of a social car, part I

The debate about the safety of listening to status updates in the car, as well as responding to email or even talking hands-free on the mobile phone, seems to have died down as hands-free connectivity and voice interfaces have penetrated the market, along with the ability to keep tweeting and posting Facebook updates while driving.

Roger Lanctot, associate director for automotive multimedia & communications service at Strategy Analytics, doesn't think much of any of these. "The way they are integrated now – bam, there's your Facebook page or Twitter account – isn't meaningful and doesn't do anything," he says.

There are better ways to make use of social networks in the car, according to Lanctot. 

One is aggregating driving and travel information with social content and delivering it to drivers via Facebook-style news feeds. Another is using all the information social networks have on the driver’s personal preferences and friends to personalize other services.

"Think of them creating things that are almost like radio stations for traffic info or weather, or maybe people sharing interesting places to go that weekend," he said.

Tweet safe

To be sure, run of the mill tweeting and facebooking will remain an important function in the vehicle, and the automotive industry will continue looking for the perfect marriage of functionality and driver safety.

Mercedes' Drive Kit Plus is one of the latest such efforts. Released in January, 2013, on the A-Class, this iPhone integration uses text-to-speech technology to read Twitter and Facebook news feeds via the car's stereo system. And it lets drivers do limited posting on Facebook and Twitter while driving, for example, letting the destination entered into the navigation system be fed into a tweet or posting the song that's currently playing on the infotainment unit.

BMW is another OEM that's enabled Twitter and Facebook in a limited way, albeit with a different approach. The BMW Group Application Integration Platform allows information from the car's various sensors and bus ports to trigger some preconfigured posts or tweets. For example, with Mini Connected, a car can note the exterior temperature and whether the convertible top is open to produce the tweet, "I'm driving down the highway and I have the top down."

Says Phil Johnston, product manager for the BMW Group Apps Platform from the BMW Group Technology Office, "One of the things we do, when selecting new applications, is figure out what people are already doing in the car and [then] try to create a safe, useful and engaging experience out of [that]."

Glympse of the future

Mercedes, BMW and Ford have also started integrating Glympse, a mobile app that lets users share their location in real time. Glympse is more than a check-in app. It delivers a link to recipients that allows them to see the sender's current position on a map, the vehicle speed and estimated time of arrival. The driver can set a time limit for location tracking. In a BMW, Glympse can read the driver's phone calendar and send a message to attendees of a particular meeting.

Says Bryan Trussel, CEO of Glympse: "When people are driving their cars, in terms of a social interaction the most common is a call or text to do with your location. 'Hey, I'm stuck in traffic.' Or, 'When are you going to be here?' Glympse is not adding another complication. You send a glympse, and you don't have to worry about texts or phone calls."

(For more on what's next for apps and services, see Telematics: What's next for apps and services, part I and Telematics: What's next for apps and services, part II.)

No shoehorn needed

Lanctot is far from alone in predicting that social media will mold and be molded by the connected in-car experience.

Speaking at Telematics Detroit 2012, David Pio, a Facebook partner engineer, predicted that Facebook in the vehicle will be very different from the smartphone or the home computer. 

The analogy he used was one of the first television broadcasts being shaped by radio. What you got was a “gentlemen sitting on a stool and reading a transcript with a camera pointed at them,” Pio said. “That was the clearest path to moving a message from radio to television. But, as we see, we don’t do that now. It would be absurd to think that would be a great experience.”

Julius Marchwicki, global product manager for SYNC AppLinkat Ford, who co-presented with Pio, agreed. “If you think about Facebook in the vehicle as reading your status updates or adding new messages, that’s completely off base,” he said.

Move fast and break things

Last year, Facebook and Ford got together to explore just how far they could take Facebook’s integration with SYNC AppLink, during an all-night hackathon. They came away with several promising demos.

The simplest one was a check-in function that got activated when the car’s ignition was turned off. Another solution made it possible for drivers to listen to music their Facebook friends were listening to. A skip forward button did not, in this case, move the audio stream one track forward. Rather, it switched to a different friend’s music stream. Yet another concept explored the gamification of fuel-efficient driving.

Getting speculative, Pio said in Detroit: "Facebook is also a platform for locations and events. Wouldn't it be awesome if, when I turned on my car, my friend's party [location] would be there? I'd get taken there automatically and check in when I arrived." Noting that Facebook's Open Graph tool now maps not only people we're connected to, but also the places and things we're connected to or like, he added, "I'd rather see a restaurant surfaced in my navigation because I liked it, or because my friend is there, not just because it's nearby."

He elaborated at a subsequent Telematics Update conference in San Diego: “There is a ton of new use cases that can come out of this, especially in the car, where you have really good location and you have mobility. If you add on top social identity, you can kind of start brainstorming here.” 

Susan Kuchinskas is a regular contributor to TU.

Next week: The making of a social car, part II.

For all the latest telematics trends, check out Data Business for Connected Vehicles Japan 2013 on May 15-16 in Tokyo, Telematics Detroit 2013 on June 5-6,Content & Apps for Automotive Europe 2013 on June 18-19 in Munich, Insurance Telematics USA 2013 on September 4-5 in Chicago, 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 2013, Insurance Telematics Report 2013 and Fleet & Asset Management Report 2012.


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