On day one of Content and Apps for Automotive USA 2013, Susan Kuchinskas finds that, while app mania continues unabated in the automotive sector, business models remain murky.
As time goes by, the fundamental questions for the telematics industry remain the same: What are the right apps and content for the car? How can the auto industry be more like the consumer electronics industry? And who makes money how?
These questions all were in play on day one of Content and Apps for Automotive USA 2013, a two-day Telematics Update conference in San Francisco this week.
Shorter development cycles, please!
For example, the idea that automakers and tier 1s need to shorten their development cycles has been discussed for years. And it appeared far from resolved.
Matt Jones, senior technical specialist - infotainment, Jaguar Land Rover, said his company is looking to Linux to speed up app development. According to him, Jaguar Land Rover has been able to integrate a test product into a Land Rover in just three weeks, thanks to automotive-grade Linux.
But Andy Gryc, automotive product marketing manager for QNX, said that embedded software - and hardware, for that matter - can only go so far. "Rapidly iterating technologies will be best served by the device brought into the car," he said.
"Things will naturally categorize themselves into rapidly innovating technologies naturally served through bringing a mobile into the car,” he said, adding that MirrorLink might be one way to integrate the phone experience. “Another subset will directly interface into the car via HTML5. There will be a split. You can't just make the problem go away."
(For more on this, see Telematics and operating systems: The 'open' versus 'closed' debate, part I  and Telematics and operating systems: The 'open' versus 'closed' debate, part II .)
Another striking thing about this year's Content and Apps for Automotive USA 2013 was how central the smartphone remains to many OEM strategies, and how difficult OEMs find it to come up with embedded solutions that meet consumer demands for choice, personalization and portability of apps and services.
Abalta Technologies was at the conference promoting its WEBLINK as "next-generation vehicle app delivery" – via the smartphone. With WEBLINK, the driver's phone remains the primary computing device.
The advantage of this setup, the company said, is that the infotainment system won't become outdated or need to be updated. Instead, it takes advantage of the updates, new apps and greater power of the phone. It also allows OEMs to set policies about what apps are available to drivers and when.
South Korea’s Obigo was another company promising better connectivity through apps running on the phone.
Obigo's App Connector interfaces with the automotive head unit via USB, Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. But rather than merely mirroring the smartphone's display and controls on the head unit, "all the data in the smartphone can play in the head unit,” said Obigo CEO David Hwang. “That means the automaker has full control of the HMI."
Honda also is including the smartphone approach to HondaLink Next Generation, the latest iteration of its connected car services.
Honda has developed its own car-centric HondaLink Connect App, which includes owner’s guide, local weather, destinations, messaging and maintenance minder featuring remote service scheduling. And it provides access to third-party apps via HondaLink App Launcher. These apps are downloaded from mobile phone marketplaces and presented via Honda’s Display Audio in-dash touchscreen.
"We want to bring content into the car in a much more live way," said Charles Koch, manager new business development, American Honda. Display Audio "answers one of the questions from consumers we hear all the time: Why can't I get the content from my phone into the head unit?” he said. “This is taking a step in that direction."
According to Chris Ruff, CEO of UIEvolution, car makers essentially need to look at the connected car in two different ways: as “a unique connected product and just another device."
Apps that are central to the automotive experience, such as navigation and maintenance, should be installed in the head unit, he said, while lifestyle apps should be tied to the phone.
In general, "the user has some expectation that there will be access to content and services in a good safe way, no different than if you're in your living room or hotel room," he added.
Egil Juliussen, research director analyst, automotive infotainment & telematics, IHS Automotive, outlined four basic models: the driver pays; the driver trades access to content and apps for driving and personal data; a third party pays, for example, by serving ads; or the freemium model – offering a free version with a paid upgrade to more content or services.
But Hakan Kostepen, executive director - product strategy & innovation, Panasonic Automotive Systems America, argued that data on its own is not valuable. It only becomes valuable if it is mined for information that can be used to do something useful.
Also, If the smartphone continues as an integral part of the infotainment experience, the app business model for the connected car will likely remain in doubt, said Ruff of UIEvolution.
"It can't be free on the phone and paid in the car," he said. "Free on one is free on all."
(For more on app business models, see Making the most of the app opportunity, part I  and Making the most of the app opportunity, part II .)
Return tomorrow for our coverage of day two of the conference.
Susan Kuchinskas is a regular contributor to TU.
For all the latest telematics trends, check out Consumer Telematics Show 2014  on Jan. 6 in Las Vegas, Telematics for Fleet Management Europe 2014  on March 12-13 in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, Content and Apps for Automotive Europe 2014  on April 8-9 in Munich, Germany, Telematics Detroit 2014  on June 4-5 in Novi, Michigan, and V2X and Auto Safety USA 2014  on July 8-9 in Novi, Michigan.
For exclusive telematics business analysis and insight, check out TU’s reports: Telematics Connectivity Strategies Report 2013 , The Automotive HMI Report 2013 , Insurance Telematics Report 2013  and Fleet & Asset Management Report 2012 .