Photograph: by Ben McLeod
This June has turned out to be rich in events that reveal the next stage in automotive industry evolution. On June 10, 2013 Apple presented iOS 7, the new operating system for mobile devices, and iOS in the Car — integration of iOS devices with a car in-dash system coming in 2014. In addition, the largest business forum devoted to in-car content, called Content and Apps for Automotive Conference and Exhibition 2013 (Munich, Germany), was also held this June. This year the event focused on machine-to-machine (M2M) technologies, in particular on integration of cars and apps.
These events not only present a new wave of possibilities for key players of the automotive industry, but also mark a new era in mobile application development, opening new branch — auto-centric apps.
New direction: auto-centric apps
The idea of introducing mobile technology into the car industry is nothing new. The integration concept is simple: to allow drivers to interact with their smartphones and tablets using the car’s built-in display. Controlling is carried out through a touch screen or panel buttons, voice control is also in plan.
The fusion of cars with consumer electronics opens up endless possibilities. That’s why leading car industry representatives attended the conference to remain ahead of the curve on latest news and developments in the area of auto-centric apps.
The main goal of the conference was to give a good start for creating long-lasting relationships between OEM-developers and car manufacturers for producing valuable automotive content and apps.
Participants from across Europe and the US experienced face-to-face networking with leading in-car content specialists and hard-to-reach top executives from BMW, Volvo, Continental, Spotify, Kia, Volkswagen, and many more.
All participants had the opportunity to listen to reports of key industry players: Reinhard Jurk, Project Manager at Connected Drive, BMW; Joerg Luetzner, Director of Online Services, Continental Automotive; Lars, Mobile Services at Volkswagen Financial Services; Bruce Hazan, Solutions Engineer at Facebook.
The goals were challenging:
- to understand potential business models
- to help spot the revenue opportunities of in-car apps
- to innovate with car controlling mobile apps
- to share experience and reveal best practices
- to decide which technologies are worth implementing
- to find the most efficient way to enable telematics functionalities
- to uncover new methods to interact with a driver
- to decide what content is pivotal to the backbone of a car
- to predict future in-car content trends and capabilities
All discussions, one way or another, were focused on new opportunities for car producers and, subsequently, for developers. Automotive apps, no doubt, enrich driver’s experience by making it more convenient, more social, more safe. While the advantages to car producers are obvious, one of the main aims of the conference was to show potential revenue and professional growth opportunities for developers and CE suppliers.
To encourage developers bet on auto strategy and start producing auto-centric apps to meet drivers demand, OEMs consider offering a universal API and SDK.
App requirements are simple yet strict, since relying on real-time information might put the driver’s life is at stake. The main requirements state that apps should be stable, easily-delivered, updatable, and secure. Moreover, the app’s functionality should aim to increase the vehicle’s value. For instance, the following are some possible features that meet these requirements:
- fuel feedback
- pre-journey destinations
- remote unlocking
- traffic service pre-drive
- driver expert systems
- robotic cars (e.g. Google driverless car)
Attracting CE suppliers
To make this branch appealing for сonsumer electronics (CE) suppliers, automotive environment should be brought closer to CE traditional development cycle. All the software should be independent from a vehicle lifecycle and, which goes without saying, should be upgradable.
Hybrid apps and services
One of the major questions today is how to provide a steady content or service across multiple platforms (iOS, Android, Windows) using both computation power of smartphones and cloud features. Another aspect to consider — utilizing middleware layers such as QT.
Ways to deliver media
Since many consumers might be reluctant to pay extra fee for connectivity, alternative ways to transfer content were also on the agenda. One of the possible solutions is Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) — a digital radio technology for broadcasting radio stations popular in Europe.
To make this possible, a number of issues require thorough investigation. Two major questions are:
- how TPEG traffic and mobile content is compatible with this technology
- what hybrid solutions are possible
Cloud services open rich perspectives for hosting digitized data from drivers, machines, maps, and sensors. ‘How can cloud exceed opportunities for providing dynamic and driver-centric content’ — was another big question during the discussion.
As any emerging technology, the growing in-car app industry inevitably has to overcome certain challenges.The following issues are still perplexing the participants of the conference:
- automotive proprietary app stores model vs. 3rd party app stores
- smartphone integration vs. open embedded platform
- driver distraction issues: safe driving environment vs. easy and affordable content
- HMI demands
- meeting global UI requirements
Armed with the ‘what’, ‘why’, and ‘how’, the participants can now set out to confidently work on solving the issues discussed. Certainly, there are still questions and difficulties but the step forward has been made and soon we will see the new generation of M2M-powered cars — vehicles with handy apps expanding driving experience.
Although M2M has become the buzzword of the season, both for the automotive industry and mobile development industry, M2M is still a whole new segment for tech companies to explore. Azoft is currently working on a new M2M app prototype delivering better driver experience in road signs recognition and soon will be ready to share the first results. Stay tuned.