The threat of Apple and Google making a play for control of the connected car space loomed large on the first day of Content and Apps for Automotive Europe 2014, a Telematics Update conference in Munich. Jan Stojaspal reports.
Neither Apple nor Google sent representatives to Content and Apps for Automotive Europe 2014, but their ghosts loomed large during day one of the two-day Telematics Update conference in Munich.
Last month, both Apple and Google unveiled app-integration solutions that allow users to display their respective smartphone apps on in-car infotainment screens. And the fact that Apple’s CarPlay and Google’s Projected Mode, as the solutions are called, could be the vehicles for the tech giants’ drive to dominate the connected automobile was hardly lost on those in attendance.
During a mid-morning presentation on harmonizing in-car connected services with the pace of innovation in the consumer electronics space, Holger G. Weiss, CEO at AUPEO!, showed a slide that depicted Google and Apple, along with Windows, Facebook and Amazon, as a Trojan horse waiting to conquer the various walled gardens car OEMs have been building around their fledgling and typically very expensive connected car ecosystems. He also cited a 2013 KPMG study according to which Americans would rather buy a self-driving car from Google or Apple than Mercedes-Benz or General Motors.
Jean Cherbonnier, founder of content aggregator NAVX, predicted in no uncertain terms that Apple and Google will end up dominating screen replication technology for the connected car – to the exclusion of MirrorLink and everyone else.
And Jörg Lützner, director – online services, interior division, Continental Automotive,said during a late afternoon panel on how to harness Big Data for the benefit of next-generation apps that he doubted Apple and Google could be fought. “On the one hand, I see them as a threat,” he said. “Can we fight them? There I have my doubts. I am more inclined to say, OK, how can we work together with them, because working against them will be mission impossible.”
To be sure, it is too early to predict the outcome of what may or may not turn into a bloody war for dominance of the connected car space. For the moment, Apple’s CarPlay and Google’s Projected Mode are two of a broad range of solutions carmakers are bringing into their connected cars.
Lee Colman, senior specialist for connected car, SBD, grouped the solutions into four main categories during an opening keynote – native or embedded apps, browser-based apps, smartphone apps and screen duplication solutions. And he said there were no clear winners for the moment.
According to Colman, OEMs continue to invest in bespoke native apps for their security, reliability and ability to offer a brand-specific user experience. But they lag behind other app categories in richness of content.
Browser-based apps and the coming of HTML5
Browser apps are next up in terms of how much control an OEM can have over an app experience, Colman said, but because they are platform-agnostic, they have a larger addressable market than native apps. They are also cheaper to produce and easier to update as all their logic is online.
Roger Lanctot, associate director for automotive multimedia & communications service, Strategy Analytics, cited the fact that the Automotive and Web Platform Business Group is the fastest growing group within the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) as an indication of interest in HTML5 for automotive.
According to Hoschka, the Automotive and Web Platform Business Group comprises more than 46 companies and some 107 individuals. The group’s immediate goals are to finalize the vehicle API spec by May and to launch new task forces that would start looking at in-vehicle multimedia, navigation and security, including containerization and off-line storage.
Smartphone apps remain a popular choice
Smartphone apps, which pair with embedded infotainment, are a very popular choice at the moment because the apps are very well established, Colman said. They can provide a relatively large choice of content and services. And they are relatively quick to deploy.
According to Peter Virk, head of connected technologies and apps, Jaguar Land Rover, smartphone apps were what customers demanded during a number of customer clinics his company held to determine the best way to integrate its cars with the smartphones that customers were bringing in. “We wanted to take a customer-first approach,” Virk said in a joint presentation with Bosch SoftTec. “Let’s give our customers what they really want, let’s not dictate them an engineering solution, or a tier 1 solution that is already available.”
What Jaguar Land Rover, in collaboration with Bosch, gave them was InControl Apps, an Apple- and Android-compatible smartphone integration platform that makes smartphone content, apps and personalization available in the car without compromising the look and feel of the smartphone experience.
InControl Apps launched in January with close to a dozen apps, including iHeart Radio, Glympse, CitySeeker and Parkopedia, and will be available throughout the Jaguar Land Rover brands this year. Although the solution largely replicates the smartphone user experience, Virk said his company’s added value was in a large, eight-inch screen to display, premium audio and the integration of the car’s signaling.
InControl Apps is also available from Bosch as a white label product called mySPIN. Kay Herget, head of marketing and product management at Bosch SoftTec, said the next evolution of the system will be through adding other smartphone operating systems, such as Firefox for the low-cost markets of China, India and Russia, and leveraging the whole set of applications in Bosch’s network, including home automation.
Screen duplication is tantalizing
According to SBD’s Colman, screen duplication is at the moment a “tantalizing opportunity” as it potentially opens a massive array of content for the connected vehicle. It is also attractive for developers who have to develop to a relatively simple API and end up with a platform-agnostic solution. But reliability and safety of use are potential issues, and app development is outside the control of the EOM.
Although Cherbonnier said MirrorLink will be overrun by Apple and Google. Antti Aumo, marketing director for the Car Connectivity Consortium, the industry group developing MirrorLink, was not about to be cowed. Speaking on an afternoon panel dedicated to creating a standout automotive user interface, he said that MirrorLink is the only technology standard, which does not dictate which operating system you run or which hardware you use when getting connected. It is also the only standard which is not dictated by a single organization, but rather by a team of car and phone manufacturers working together, he added.
According to him, 2014 is the year when MirrorLink gets traction. Honda, Toyota, Volkswagen, Peugeot and Citroënwill start with MirrorLink soon, as will two other major carmakers, which are still under non-disclosure. “For me, 2014 will be the year of MirrorLink,” he said.
According to him, the four main arguments for using screen duplication such as MirrorLink are:
The daily life of the driver is already on the phone, in his contacts, his schedule, his friends. Screen duplication is the easiest way to pull it from the phone.
Portable devices will continue to outperform embedded systems in terms of processing power. “The phone will always have more horsepower than the car head unit,” he said. “This is a race that the car cannot win.”
Service platforms for embedded applications are very fragmented, and it is, therefore, difficult to attract service volume. “I speak to a lot of app developers, and they hate working with SDKs, they hate working with 10 different SDKs from 10 different manufacturers.”
Finally, when connected services are accessed in the car via the smartphone, there are never any questions about whose SIM and whose data plan are involved.
Integration, not aggregation
Whatever the approach to bringing content and apps into the connected vehicle, customers will no longer accept OEMs limiting their selection, AUPEO!’s Weiss said. But he argued that the way forward is not through aggregation – by giving the driver an ever growing array of apps to choose from. Rather, it is through intelligent integration of content into highly personalized channels, such as music, news, weather or sports, as in the case of streaming audio. “You might think, But that’s aggregation business,” Weiss said. “But that’s exactly not aggregation, it’s integration. … Ever since 2003, we don’t like portals any more. Why do we rebuild this experience?”
Integration may eliminate some of the app clutter on the head unit, but it hardly addresses a far bigger headache: the complexity of different connected car platforms.
Rory Kenny, director, mobile partnerships & affiliate EMEA, TripAdvisor, said managing that complexity is adding a major challenge for content providers. “We come from software and content worlds which [are] moving so quickly; we are just trying to keep our pace with the two OS we know, which is Google Android and iOS,” he said. “Just on those two OS alone, we have a huge team trying to make sure that we are always innovative there. Compound that by new form factors like [the] tablet. That adds another complexity to our products. So when you add the complexity of the automotive sector, it starts to become exponential. Our approach is to reduce that complexity dramatically … and just really to focus on the deals where the parties are quite excited to move with us. So, it’s not so much who is the biggest player. It’s which player can move quickly with us, who wants to do things, who is getting stuff done, who is communicating effectively.”
So far, TripAdvisor’s success has been mainly with third-party providers – companies like Airbiquity and Bouygues Telecom, which have helped deploy its services into Nissan, Infiniti and Renault.
Managing the complexity
Apple and Google entering the connected car space makes for yet more complexity. “I realize that the market has suddenly shifted recently with the big announcements from Google and Apple, so that delivers a lot more complexity into what will be the next version of in-car system,” Kenny said. “So what we have to do is essentially wait and see what happens.”
But the tech giants’ entry can also be a boon in terms of helping simplify things, albeit at the cost of product differentiation. “The challenge is [the connected car] a bit of a walled garden at the moment and everybody is trying to put their arms around it,” said Alastair Cotterill, a creative strategist at Facebook, who appeared on the same panel as Kenny. “Until the barriers come down a little, … I don’t necessarily see we’ll innovate that quickly.”
According to Cherbonnier, Apple and Google come to the connected car from different perspectives. Apple’s play is to sell hardware, so it wants to make sure that the car is compatible with its devices, he said. Google is interested in eyeballs for its advertising and location-based services, which come on the back of data collected on users.
Of the two, Google is the one to be particularly cautious about, Cherbonnier said.
“If you look at Google, everybody knows it is a fast and neutral search engine that clearly separates search results from advertising,” he said tongue in cheek. “They have a clear and predictable content policy. They respect privacy. And they respect copyright. Am I right? Or do they manipulate results? Do they mix ads with their own products? Do they blacklist content for obscure reasons and change their policy? Do they collect, then use data without consent? Do they say, ‘We act now, we apologize later’? I don’t know. But, you know there are investigations right now. … So, there are many reasons to be very cautious about Google.”
According to Cherbonnier, it’s particularly important to read the small print when dealing with the likes of Google. He gave the example of whether using Android in the car is free of charge. “It’s free provided that you actually take the standard version and you implement it in like 75% of all your cars,” he said. “And if you want a non-standardized version, then it will be like €10, €15, €20 per car. Multiply that by the number of cars, [and] maybe an inhouse solution would be less expensive.”
Another problem in embracing Apple or Google is that it might be hard to differentiate the connected car experience, and it might also be difficult to integrate car data, said Kenneth Malmberg, new business development, global connected consumer, General Motors, who appeared on the same panel as TripAdvisor’s Kenny and Facebook’s Cotterill. It may also detract from the ability to interact with customers, added Christof Juette, multinationals, presales, Telefónica.
The Big Data headache
Still, Continental’s Lütznersaid he believed cooperation could benefit both sides. One area of cooperation could well be Big Data, particularly as the car industry shifts from selling “wheels and steel,” as Cherbonnier put it, to selling software and, ultimately, data.
Towards the end of day one, a presentation by Johann Prenninger, head of field data analytics, BMW, highlighted the magnitude of data his company was dealing with. According to Prenninger, a highly equipped 5- or 7-Series BMW has as many as 65 electronic control units, 1GB of onboard software and more than 15GB of data, consisting largely of navigation and map information. What’s more, there are around 2,000 customer-relevant software functions, 12,000 diagnostic trouble codes and 4,000 metric values describing the car’s performance.
“You can imagine 4,000 values are extremely complex,” he said. “No single person at BMW can understand everything today. That’s gone. But, on the other hand, there is an extremely high potential to take advantage of the data set.”
He continued: “The challenge for us as an automotive OEM or, let’s say, a mechanic engineering-focused company is to adapt for IT agility. If you see the track record of, let’s say, Amazon for the last 10 years, they continue to release super products synced to their customer needs in a continuous and more or less monthly basis. This sort of agility … is a thing which we should adapt for and understand how we could speed up. We mentioned this software update in the car over the air, it’s clearly an issue. I could tell you stories about how we are unable to be as flexible as the ITs are everywhere.”
He said the automotive industry needed to “find the key to be open-minded, to understand why Google is able to develop things rapidly as compared to us, and also [how] they dare to send highly automated cars around Mountain View in California, not only on the campus.” “We don’t do that,” he said. “We should really learn from each other. Also, Google and Apple could learn from our safety critical issues, because if a [smartphone] app fails, nobody will die. But in our case, it’s a bit different.”
Jan Stojaspal is the executive editor of Telematics Update.
For all the latest telematics trends, check out Insurance Telematics Europe 2014 on May 6-7 in London, Telematics India and South Asia 2014 on May 28-29 in Bangalore, India, Insurance Telematics Canada 2014 on May 28-29 in Toronto, Telematics Detroit 2014 on June 4-5 in Novi, Michigan, Advanced Automotive Safety USA 2014 on July 8-9 in Novi, Michigan, Insurance Telematics USA 2014 on Sept. 3-4 in Chicago, and Telematics Munich 2014 on Nov. 10-11 in Munich, Germany.
For exclusive telematics business analysis and insight, check out TU’s reports: Insurance Telematics Report 2014, Connected Fleet Report 2014, The Automotive HMI Report 2013 and Telematics Connectivity Strategies Report 2013.