Viewpoint: Who pays for in-car apps?

Viewpoint: Who pays for in-car apps?

When asked to summarize, in two sentences, my views on the future of in-car apps, I tend to answer as follows: Do not expect in-car apps to be delivered by a broad developer ecosystem on par with the mobile industry. And a major emphasis will remain on flexible, non-distracting integrations with the vehicle.

There are simply too many restrictions for a broad developer ecosystem to emerge. There are driver distraction regulations, which vary from region to region. There are human-machine interface (HMI) guidelines, which are unique to each OEM. There are brand identity considerations and OEM business interests. 

There is also much fragmentation among the many different in-vehicle infotainment systems. There are differences in everything from software platforms and display sizes to input mechanisms, be they touch displays, turn knobs, steering wheel controls, voice recognition or, in the future, gestures.

All this limits the appeal to the developer community. The effort to reach sales volumes is too high, which leads to high app prices. And consumers are not used to paying tens or hundreds of Euros for apps.

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

Who does what?

This does not mean demand for in-car apps will stall. On the contrary, consumer demand for in-car apps will continue to surge.  But it means the demand will have to be met by someone other than the developer community, namely by those who need the apps to support their core businesses.

I am mainly talking about automotive OEMs and content and service companies, such as TuneIn, Spotify and TomTom. And the more popular the service, the more involved the OEMs will need to be.

I don’t think Facebook or Twitter will need to develop their own client versions for GM, Toyota or Daimler. (You might question the use of these in cars, anyway.) The OEMs will do those. But smaller service providers will have to do the client versions themselves to get into as many cars as possible and to capture a greater market share.

Flexibility is key, integration a must

I don’t expect big differences in use cases and features of common services, such as Internet radio, email, media players and calendars. But they will have to be flexible in customizing to OEM HMIs.

Of course, you must be flexible in adapting for OEM-specific features too. But this shouldn’t be rocket science for developers who have done their homework and kept the user interface (UI) and engine separated in the architecture. When you have the logic separated from the UI, you can reuse the same applications for different kinds of displays, brands, etc.

Take, for example, an email application. From a functional point of view, there are probably no differences. It doesn’t matter if you read and compose your emails from a touch display in a Volkswagen or with the iDrive controller in a BMW. But from an HMI point of view, there are lots of differences.

One more thing to keep in mind is that we need to deliver the information or entertainment in a safe and straightforward way. One app for one use case is not good – e.g. one app for locating friends, one app for routing and one for finding a parking spot. Integration is a must.

Timo Salminen is head of automotive at Ixonos.

For all the latest telematics trends, check out Content & Apps for Automotive Europe 2013 on June 18-19 in Munich, V2V & V2I for Auto Safety USA 2013 on July 9-10 in Novi, MI, Insurance Telematics USA 2013 on September 4-5 in Chicago,Telematics Russia 2013 in September in Moscow, 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 2013Insurance Telematics Report 2013 and Fleet & Asset Management Report 2012.


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