Livio, Ford, and the pursuit of connected dashboard standards

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Issue Date: 
Sep 27 2013 - 12:45pm

From Issue:

The ability to pivot, moving in a new direction from the same vantage, is crucial in basketball and business. Livio, whose acquisition by Ford has lit up the connected-car niche, pivoted adroitly from making internet radio devices to writing car connectivity software. Ford, for its part, appears to be pivoting on its Sync and AppLink assets, adding Livio’s branded technology as a wholly-owned subsidiary living side-by-side with Ford’s digital-dash solutions.

Livio’s flagship product is a universal platform that links consumer devices to car dashboards. The scenario: You bring your smartphone into the car, and your favorite Internet listening apps get connected to the dashboard’s head unit where you can more easily and safely control them. Ford’s AppLink performs the same basic function -- Scott Burnell, Ford’s global lead of business development, describes AppLink as a snippet of code written into infotainment apps such as Pandora and TuneIn.

Matching the ease of AM/FM radio in the car with the programming variety of Internet radio is the brass ring for users and app providers. But that mission does not appear to be shared among car builders, most of which provide independent solutions. Questions of who provides the Internet connection, the apps, and the operating system are being answered in multiple ways, reflecting many marketplace approaches.

RAIN talked with Tim Stevens, Editor at Large of CNET and noted car-tech expert, about creating dashboard standardization out of the deep fragmentation which currently exists. Stevens pointed to Livio’s existing relationship with Chevrolet as an interesting deal point. (Livio Connect is implemented in the Chevrolet Spark.)

“It’s interesting to see Ford acquire somebody who has third-party relationships with other car companies, GM in this case. And I’m guessing that GM is planning to expand that out to other models. Ford has been pretty open about wanting to establish some kind of standard of smartphone connectivity and infotainment in general. This is a pretty strong indication that they are serious about wanting to define that standard.”

Burnell, who appeared on RAIN Summit’s “Race to the Dashboard” panel ten days ago in Orlando, explained why Ford’s “brought-in” solution to dashboard standardization, in which the user provides the apps and the Internet connection, is favorable to users and app developers. 

“The life cycle of developing and launching a vehicle is about five years. If you embed Pandora into the head unit, going through the OEM’s [development] cycle, it might be obsolete when it comes out. With Ford and the brought-in solution, it’s the user’s app and they are already using it. It can connect to the vehicle, and work.”

Stevens notes that car companies have become more adept at separating dashboard development cycles from the rest of the car model’s evolution, quickening the creation of new dashboard connectivity features. But that isn’t moving the industry as a whole toward a standard infotainment dashboard, according to Stevens. “I don’t think the OEMs are motivated to play nice together. They ultimately are focused on delivering what they think is the best product for their buyers. Making any concessions in the interest of keeping their developers happy is not on their radar. Ford is the only one that is thinking about that.”

Livio’s mandate, as expressed by founder Jake Sigal, is “More connectivity with less hassle.” That ideal is certainly foundational to dashboard standardization, but there are many paths forward through a thicket of technologies. The mobile device companies like Apple and Google are not (yet?) significantly involved, and the competitive landscape could get more complex than it already is. A universal listening system in the car, one that approaches the simplicity of AM/FM receivers, could be a mirage for years to come.

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Thanks again RAIN for all the great coverage. All of us here at Livio appreciate it. More to come!

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