connected car

Study: Connected car growth driven by diagnostics, not infotainment

Tuesday, November 12, 2013 - 12:45pm

A new, 120-page report has been released by iGR, a mobile market consultancy, titled “U.S. Connected Car Market Forecast, 2012-2017: Infotainment on Four Wheels.” The study predicts a compound annual growth rate of 142 percent for connected cars.

For the purpose of this study, iGR defined “connected car” with a strict meaning of that often-used phrase. RAIN spoke with report author and iGR founder Iain Gillott about what a connected car really is, what is driving its development, and the key question of whether dashboards will ever be standardized again.

RAIN: What does “connected car” mean to you?

IG: There are lots of car systems. Many of them are not truly connected cars. You take a smartphone into the car; you can do Bluetooth and run apps. That’s not what we’re talking about. The way we look at it, the car must have its own connection. The number of cars like that today is relatively small, outside of OnStar.

Having said that, things will change significantly in the next 24 months. We looked at all the car manufacturers, what they’re doing today and where they’re going -- in 24 months it’s going to be very difficult not to get Internet [built into] the car.

RAIN: The truly connected car, one which has Internet built in, is the roadmap of the future?

IG: Yes, I think so. What the car manufacturers want to do are things like car diagnostics for service and warranty. Engine management software updates. That obviously impacts their warranty and service costs significantly. If you can do an engine software update remotely, instead of issuing a recall and having the customer bring in the car, that’s pretty big. Pandora [and other infotainment apps] are nice, but the car companies are trying to do other things with the built-in connection. That’s the benefit to the car companies, rather than offering apps to the consumer.

When you look at some of the new cars like the Mercedes M-Class, the systems in it are amazing. Mercedes can look remotely at whether the car needs service. As opposed to, “Bring it in, we’ll take a look at it when we get a chance.”

RAIN: In that view, diagnostic apps are driving the connected car. Users and their in-car audio will be dragged along with that imperative.

IG: We surveyed consumers. Herein lies the problem! Knowledge of this sort of technology, and the systems available today, is low. Even navigation, which is highest-used in-car technology today, is used by only 30 percent of drivers. When we asked people to consider their current car and what they liked about it, the top three answers were: safety, reliability, and fuel economy. Infotainment features were just up from the bottom. When we asked people the same thing about buying a new car, we got the same answers.

The manufacturers are throwing infotainment in the car. But there is an education process that needs to happen with consumers, about why it’s good, why they need it. There’s a disconnect between what the consumers perceive, and what the car companies offer.

RAIN: All the car companies seem to be going in different directions. Will we ever get a standardized dashboard that anybody can understand when they first get in the car?

IG: Probably not. [laugh] But I’m not sure the rest of the car is really standardized. Beyond the speedometer and seat belts, there’s not much standardization. I’m not sure the OEMs want standardization in the car. It’s hard to imagine that Mercedes and Jaguar would have the same look-and-feel. They certainly don’t want that.

New Edison Research videos show a “barrage of new” in connected cars

Monday, October 28, 2013 - 11:55am

Seeking insight to how new-car owners are coping with modern infotainment systems built into digital dashboards, Edison Research has produced video interviews with recent buyers. (Watch the videos here.) Unlike the eye-opening videos of prospective buyers trying to turn on the radio for the first time, shown at the Radio Show in Orlando, the subjects of Edison’s videos have had some number of months to learn and adapt to expanded listening choices in the car.

We spoke to Larry Rosin, President of Edison Research, to ask about key takeaways.

RAIN: You spoke with new-car owners who have been dealing with sophisticated dashboards for several months. What did you learn?

LR: The average car on the road is 11 or 12 years old; most of these people had traded in 10- or 11-year-old cars. So they’re excited by the prospect of a new car, and by the systems that are baked into these cars. They’ve gone from the alpha to the omega of the [dashboard] experience. They get hit with what I call a "barrage of new.” Lots of new things. In every one of these cases, on top of these dash systems -- connection with their phones, or embedded 4G -- they get a free trial subscription to SiriusXM. Lots of new things are coming through to them. We see in the videos very significant changes in behavior.

For broadcast radio, those guys are fighting the “barrage of new.’” And I don’t think we think enough in the broadcast radio industry about “new.” We seldom launch new shows, we seldom launch new formats, we seldom come out with new initiatives. In many ways we’ve come to represent the opposite of New. I think that’s a dangerous prospect.

RAIN: To what extent do you think the Barrage of New will stick with new-car buyers? For example, how long had these people owned their new cars, and were they still in the trial satellite subscriptions?

LR: In some cases the trials had lapsed, and some of them had not renewed. We asked people to project into the future, and of course that’s hard for people to do. But I think these people are forever changed in their behaviors. They all came from cars where AM/FM was the only [listening] option, except for CDs -- and in one case, cassettes. [Now they’re in a world where] their phone, their iPod, their own music was readily available in the car, and streamed music was easy to access also. They’re taking advantage of that. In the videos they seem excited about what they can do.

If you watch the videos, [the subjects] still do turn to radio. Every respondent said they do turn to radio for unique, compelling content they cannot get from streaming audio or satellite radio. News reports, traffic reports, weather, personalities, sports, public radio.

RAIN: Do you think that encourages radio as an industry to double down on its legacy values of news, traffic, and weather -- as opposed to developing new content?

LR: No. Not at all. Of course we should stress things like news, traffic, weather, and personalities. But I think it compels radio to say “What other content beyond all that can be unique and compelling in a much more competitive environment?”

RAIN: One of your subjects made a remark that must feel like hitting a wall for radio professionals who see these videos. The subject said, “I don’t listen to radio anymore because I don’t have to.”

LR: Yes, but I wonder whether that is over-interpreted. Clearly it came down hard, but I’m not sure that woman meant it with nasty connotations. She had a ten-year-old car, where radio was the only option. She was merely pointing out that she went from a world of one option to a world of many options.

RAIN: Even though the new dashboards are difficult for your subjects to learn and master, it appeared there was no desire for a return to simpler controls.

LR: There was definitely an adjustment period. Nobody said they wanted to go back.

RAIN: Your videos, and others, seem to illustrate that voice control really doesn’t work yet. Perhaps it will be an important factor in safe connected cars, but presently isn’t effective. Do you agree?

LR: I have no doubt it’s gotten better, but the people in these videos who have it, are really struggling with it. I can also say this: Not having had the benefit of time that these people have (and they’re still struggling with it), I’ve been in cars where I’ve tried to synch my phone to the car, and I simply could not do it. I took out the manual and gave it a serious effort. I simply could not do it. As of today [phone pairing] is just terrible.

RAIN: Have you gotten a sense from the radio people what their emotional reaction is to these videos? Is there denial?

LR: In all honesty, I think the denial period is rapidly coming to an end. It’s not that long ago, when there was a Code of Omerta in the radio industry, where if you point out a problem, you are the problem. If you look at the tone of the Radio Show in Orlando, and the tone of DASH in Detroit, and the general tone, the era in which denial is the only acceptable approach is over, or ending quickly. An attitude is emerging in which it’s a competitive world and we have to compete smart and compete strong. A healthier attitude is emerging.

DASH Conference explores connected cars in Detroit

Thursday, October 24, 2013 - 12:10pm

In what Fred Jacobs calls the first radio-oriented trade conference in the motor city, several industries are intersecting this week to examine connected cars. Jacobs and his company, Jacobs Media, are hosting DASH, The Connected Car AudioTainment Conference.

Top execs from radio companies (Entercom; Greater Media), automakers (Ford; GM), solution providers (Clip Interactive, uBiquity), and Internet content brands (ESPN Audio, Pandora, TuneIn) had representatives on stage in Day 1 of the two-day event.

Automotive Keynote presenter Julius Marchwiki (chief of Ford’s SYNC AppLink product) emphasized the changing landscape of consumer technology, noting that by 2015 two-billion smartphones will be on the street, holding 180-billion app downloads, and claiming that 75 percent of survey respondents want to connect their phone to the car.

Entercom CEO David Field took a more complacent tack in a slideshow that emphasized AM/FM’s reach, while acknowledging recent survey data from Edison Research indicating that over half of connected Americans listen to Internet radio. Field asserted that, despite all disruptions implied by a conference devoted to multi-modal car listening, broadcast radio is in a “golden age.”

In the first of two “Breaking News” panels, Blair Cullen of ESPN Audio caused Twitter to light up over his remark that “the car is going to be the most expensive iPhone accessory ever built.” In the same panel, Patrick Reynolds of Triton Digital prophesied: “The future will be won by those who see themselves and publishers, not stations.

In the day’s final discussion panel, George Lynch of Pandora (head of Automotive Business Development) said, “Pandora is the next generation of FM.”

The DASH conference continues Thursday, adding car dealers and radio DJs to the mix of panelists.

Audi rumored to develop replaceable SIM slot for connected dashboards

Thursday, October 10, 2013 - 11:00am

What’s your pleasure, a dashboard that allows you to plug in your personal devices with their data plans for streaming music on the road? Or a self-contained connected dash with its own Internet connectivity and embedded apps? In the first case, you’re bringing your own entertainment dashboard into the car, on your smartphone. In the second case, you can leave your gear at home and still enjoy your playlists while driving.

Fierce Wireless reports that Audi, which is developing its in-car tech along the lines of the second scenario, might announce a replaceable SIM-card slot for its A3 model, at the Consumer Electronics Show next January. Some current Audi models have an SIM card in the dash now, with a factory-installed SIM as the only card which will work with the onboard telematics. The data plan is provided by T-Mobile.

The problem with a one-SIM solution is that the connectivity solution built into the card might become obsolete -- for example, when cell phone networks upgrade their bandwidth capability. Car companies might be glad if trade-in decisions were synched with the development cycles of telecom companies, but that doesn’t necessarily fly with consumers.

Making the card switchable enables drivers to bring their own data plans into the car, to power the car’s connected dash systems. It’s a hybrid of the two scenarios above -- leave your devices at home, bring your own Internet into the vehicle with a SIM, and enjoy the dashboard’s integrated apps and services. 

Global partnership puts Aha streaming radio into Mazda's best-selling model

Wednesday, September 25, 2013 - 11:40am

In-car infotainment platform Aha by Harman announced that the new 2014 Mazda3 (for American and Japanese markets, as well as select other North American and Asian countries) will offer access to Aha's free service of more than 40,000 audio and information stations.

Aha will be Mazda's in-car solution to access podcasts, radio stations, news, entertainment, audiobooks, music, Facebook and Twitter feeds, and personalized location-based services.

Station partners include AccuRadio, CBC, EMF, NPR, CBS's, SHOUTcast, Slacker, SomaFM, and others.

The "connected car" a persistent topic at RAIN Summit Orlando

Wednesday, September 18, 2013 - 12:40pm

Marketplace demand is growing for digital interactivity in the car. This trend has longer legs in the navigation/traffic category, but the headlines now are turning to the infotainment section of automobile control, driven largely by the penetration (if not saturation) of smartphones and the streaming-audio apps that live on them.

The changing configurations of "car radio" touched down several times, in several sessions of yesterday's RAIN Summit Orlando, including Entercom CEO David Field’s keynote address, a research presentation from GroupM Next ("The Internet Radio Marketplace") (see more Summit coverage here), the rapid-fire Pecha Kucha dazzler from Harman's Toby Trevarthen, and the "Race to the Dashboard" panel which provided a topical deep dive on the topic.

Toby Trevarthan set the table by declaring that 2013 was "ground zero" for development of connected car solutions. Of course, many ad hoc solution have been underway, cobbled together by users from one direction, the car companies from the other direction, and the aftermarket sitting between them. One of the most important questions in this space is whether a standardized infotainment platform is possible in the car, and if so, when. And how. And whether all stakeholders agree on its desirability. In other words, the big question mark is as fragmented as the present-day solutions.

The "Race to the Dashboard" session feature perspectives from Ford (Scott Burnell), Pioneer's aftermarket products (Ted Cardenas), Pandora (Geoff Snyder), TuneIn (Kevin Straley), and Slacker (Steve Cotter). Ford’s Burnell articulated Ford's plug-and-play dashboard philosophy, represented by the company AppLink functionality built into many popular streaming apps. The solution transfers control of a music-streaming app, for example, from the smartphone to the more accessible and safely-accessed dashboard.

Safety is a persistent issue, not an easily solved one, dependent as it is on state laws that form a regulatory patchwork sanctioning when and how phones can be used in the car. (More fragmentation.) Initiatives are underway, though, in the product development of app code from both the providers and the car companies -- e.g., blacking out the phone when control is transferred to the dash.

One of the most powerful built-in advantages of broadcast car radio is its intuitive, time-tested, push-button ease. Ideally, users want access to a big PLAY button in the car that picks up the station/stream/programming where the driver left off. Furthermore, also ideally, a standardized experience with similar essentials across all car types and models. After a day of circling around this topic, that holy grail of unification seems a long way off, as car builders, mobile service providers, streaming music companies, and the aftermarket innovators each pursues its individual path to stakeholding a piece of the digitally connected car of the future.

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