Susan Kuchinskas looks at the technical strategies that enable app developers to provide global solutions while customizing user experiences to suit cultural differences
As OEMs move onto global hardware platforms, they know, when it comes to apps and content, one size does not fit all regions. Toyota's strategy, according to Brian H. Inouye, national manager technology and engineering in Toyota's Advanced Technology Department, is to approach the problem in two stages.
First, Toyota "communized" everything it could on the vehicle platform itself, the electronics and then information being pulled and pushed from the cloud. Remote door locking and reporting engine trouble codes, for instance, are efficiencies that transcend national and cultural boundaries. "On the back end," Inouye says, "the collection of data and normalizing that data is on the global platform."
In the second stage, each regional distributor creates appropriate services and content. For example, after the engine automatically reports a trouble code, a global function, the distributor for South America or Europe or wherever consumes that information from the cloud and creates localized services, such as automatically pinging a dealer to suggest a service appointment. (For more from Brian H. Inouye, see Q&A: Telematics, Toyota EVs and the connected car.)
The global cloud platform
Toyota Safety Connect, introduced in the United States in 2009, is an example of a localized service available in the US. It offers an emergency button to call for assistance as well as roadside assistance services, automatic collision notification and stolen vehicle location. The Lexis Enform App Suite, introduced for the 2013 model year, is another one, delivering iHeart Radio, MovieTickets and OpenTable, among others. Toyota Entune is also specific to North America. In Japan, a similar service is called G-Book.
TuneIn is another company that relies on a global cloud platform to enable regional customization. The service, available as an app for mobile phones and smartphone-connected infotainment units, lets people listen to live radio from 70,000 radio stations broadcast from 206 countries as well as 2 million podcasts.
The 10-year-old company began as an Internet radio provider, so it's had plenty of time to solve the regionalization issue, according to Kristin George, director of product. The company has built an array of tools that helps listeners find content of interest, and it also employs editors on the ground in each country, doing not just translations of content but also localization.
"By the time we got into the vehicle, a lot of the problems had already been solved. But we were presented with a bunch of new problems," George says. "With all that content, how do we make that safe inside the vehicle? Our strength became one of our biggest challenges inside the car."
While the accessible content might feel infinite to users, TuneIn testing has identified four levels of the directory as the maximum that's safe while driving. Beyond that, there are safety regulations on the horizon in the United States and other countries that the company will have to address. At this point, George says, the company simply follows the individual OEM guidelines. (For more on Internet radio, see Telematics and the rise of in-car Internet radio, part I and Telematics and the rise of in-car Internet radio, part II.)
There are more challenges with the diverse HMIs among manufacturers, models and regions.
"The product process is they create the box, we have to figure out how to live in it," George says. "Every car company and OEM has their own way approaching the in-dash solution. We try to be as complementary to that process as possible." To accomplish this, TuneIn works one-on-one with each manufacturer, and the company is in process of designating a head of automotive.
This laborious one-on-one collaboration has led to a lack of diversity in the apps market, according to Massimo Baldini, president of Livio Radio. He says that the new Livio Connect API can reduce the fragmentation in the auto apps market.
Livio Connect is a middleware framework protocol that lets automotive infotainment systems remotely connect to and control smartphone applications, including Livio Radio. The Livio Connect mobile application also can be controlled by the standard buttons in the head unit.
"The fragmentation on one side is all these mobile apps—and they churn daily and weekly,” Baldini says. “On the other side, there are hundreds of engineering projects going on among the OEMs. If you try to do one-on-one integration, that turns into millions of projects."
While it may be worth it for an OEM to take the time to integrate an app like Pandora, which has millions of users, this system doesn't allow for the kind of personalization that mobile phone users today expect, according to Baldini.
To enable the Livio Connect API, both the app developer and the OEM need to include a few lines of code in their software. While this is easier than custom integration, there are still barriers. App developers are too busy building for phones, which have an addressable market in the hundreds of millions, to get excited about integrating Livio right now, Baldini says.
In September, General Motors said it would use Livio Connect technology to integrate the TuneIn app with the 2013 Chevrolet Spark's MyLink Radio dashboards manufactured globally. This is Livio's first major OEM announcement. While connected through Livio Connect, all of the TuneIn buttons and controls from the mobile device will be available on MyLink's seven-inch touch screen, while the app on the phone itself will be disabled in the interest of safe driving. (For more from Livio Radio, see Livio Radio: How apps get into cars.)
Both Livio and TuneIn address localization by keeping most of the service in the cloud. For TuneIn, all changes are made on the service and the user interface on the car merely accesses that service in the cloud. This lets the company quickly add new stations. It may bring on a couple hundred new stations each week, and they're immediately available to all the different car infotainment systems enabled with TuneIn.
Livio uses an authentication server to white list and black list apps at each OEM's request. "The server is an opportunity for an OEM to have a one-stop solution that can cover the globe or not. They can customize by geotargeting each application," Baldini says. In other words, the OEM can globally enable an app for its hardware but then allow it to work only in certain countries or regions, via a real-time interface.
OEMs can use this same system to limit apps by market, enabling a greater variety in higher-end vehicles, for example, or focusing on certain apps for a model that appeals to a particular demographic. The automotive industry doesn't move fast, but it has made progress in keeping up with the hurly burly of mobile apps. It has to.
Susan Kuchinskas is a regular contributor to TU.
For more on apps, see Industry insight: Telematics and apps.
For all the latest telematics trends, visit Content and Apps for Automotive USA 2012 on December 4-5 in San Diego.
Coming up in 2013: Consumer Telematics Show 2013 on January 7 in Las Vegas, V2X for Auto Safety and Mobility Europe 2013 on February 19-20 in Frankfurt, Telematics for Fleet Management Europe 2013 on March 19-20 in Amsterdam, Insurance Telematics Europe 2013 on May 8-9 in London and Telematics India and South Asia 2013 on June 5-7 in India.
For exclusive telematics business analysis and insight, check out TU’s reports: In-Vehicle Smartphone Integration Report, Human Machine Interface Technologies and Smart Vehicle Technology: The Future of Insurance Telematics.
In the second of a two-part series, Susan Kuchinskas looks at how making cars more social could enhance the driving experience - and make customers more loyal.
Siegfried Mortkowitz chronicles the tentative growth of the Russian telematics market as the country prepares for the implementation of its nationwide emergency response system, ERA-GLONASS
Jessica Royer Ocken explores how greater in-car connectivity can lead to greater revenues
Frederic Bruneteau, managing director, Ptolemus Consulting Group, on maintaining leadership in commercial telematics and why Andrew S. Grove's guiding motto still applies.
Steven H. Bayless, senior director, telecommunications and telematics at the Intelligent Transportation Society (ITS) of America, on why a common platform for vehicle communications will provide more opportunity for the industry than individual OEM solutions
Crispin Moger, managing director of the Marmalade Group of Companies, on targeting usage-based insurance to an underserved audience