Thursday, March 15, 2012

What the connected car is really all about (and what we need to do about it)

Recently, I was invited to participate in a webinar that highlighted hits and misses at Mobile World Congress. It occurred to me that some of you might be interested in what I had to say — at the very least, I’d earn points with Paul Leroux, our editor, for spontaneously offering up a blog post. :)  So here's what I said... almost verbatim.

    First, a quick intro on QNX: Many will know us as the wholly owned subsidiary of RIM whose software platform powers the BlackBerry PlayBook. But we also provide the de facto standard platform for all types of in-vehicle infotainment and navigation systems. And it’s from this perspective that I offer these comments.
    My primary observation is regarding the evolving dialogue surrounding the connected car and what I think it represents. Three years ago we were here with Alcatel-Lucent, showcasing the first LTE connected concept car, based on a Toyota Prius. This car proved so popular that we had to hire a security guard to help manage the traffic. Now, three years later, there are a number of connected production vehicles to be seen, including a QNX-based BMW 7 series in the GSMA’s connected home exhibit. And the announcements this year focused not so much on broadband connectivity per se (it's here, people expect it), but on the integration of the smart phone with the vehicle.
    At QNX, we talk about the personalization of the in-vehicle experience, as people want to bring in their own devices, their own music, their own contacts and other content — and experience these in the vehicle setting. For instance, Ford not only announced the B-Max vehicle, but used MWC as a platform to launch Ford Sync for Europe. Toyota and Samsung, meanwhile, announced support for Samsung Mobile Car Application for integration of phones to the car's head unit. So if step one was getting a broadband connection to enable a consumer experience in the car, and step two is about personalizing that experience, what’s next? 
    I think that, ultimately, the connected car is all about the consumer, and this is how revenue will be generated in a way that connected telematics on its own could never do. You could be an automaker interested in improving how to service a car and its owner after the car has driven off the dealer's lot. Or you could be a carrier interested in extending your offer beyond connectivity to deliver value-added services. Or perhaps you’re a small business trying to get more people in the door. In each case, the car represents a new frontier. And it offers the added value of context – not only do you know if someone is available and where they are, but you also know that they are driving a vehicle. 
    The next few years are going to be very exciting as the automotive and mobile industries converge to address this opportunity. Think about the brands involved: Companies like Audi, BMW, and GM on one hand and the likes of AT&T, Verizon, and Vodafone on the other. They’re mutually dependent — neither group will be successful without the other. Automotive needs to leverage the investments being made for smart phones, be it device technology, network infrastructure, or developer communities. Meanwhile, the mobile industry has to consider the nature of automotive in terms of safety, security, and liability, not to mention product life cycles. 
    It's safe to say that automotive is just the first example of this type of industry convergence and transformation. All of the carriers are looking at M2M as a huge untapped market opportunity. And within the classic embedded market, there are an almost infinite number of market segments, truly an example of the Long Tail. 
    It will be exciting to watch how mobile transforms those markets and vice versa — what will mobile look like in 5 years from now? I don’t think we can easily predict it; after all, it's not going to be like anything we’ve seen before. But I can’t wait to find out.

So there you have it. If you'd like to hear the entire webinar, you can register here to access the archived version.

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