Monday, October 24, 2011

When will I get apps in my car?

I read the other day that Samsung’s TV application store has surpassed 10 million app downloads. That got me thinking: When will the 10 millionth app download occur in the auto industry as a whole? (Let’s not even consider 10 million apps for a single automaker.)

There’s been much talk about the car as the fourth screen in a person’s connected life, behind the TV, computer, and smartphone. The car rates so high because of the large amount of time people spend in it. While driving to work, you may want to listen to your personal flavor of news, listen to critical email through a safe, text-to-speech email reader, or get up to speed on your daily schedule. When returning home, you likely want to unwind by tapping into your favorite online music service. Given the current norm of using apps to access online content (even if the apps are a thin disguise for a web browser), this begs the question — when can I get apps in my car?

Entune takes a hands-free
approach to accessing apps.
A few automotive examples exist today, such as GM MyLink, Ford Sync, and Toyota Entune. But app deployment to vehicles is still in its infancy. What conditions, then, must exist for apps to flourish in cars? A few stand out:

Cars need to be upgradeable to accept new applications — This is a no-brainer. However, recognizing that the lifespan of a car is 10+ years, it would seem that a thin client application strategy is appropriate.

Established rules and best practices to reduce driver distraction — These must be made available to, and understood by, the development community. Remember that people drive cars at high speeds and cannot fiddle with unintuitive, hard-to-manipulate controls. Apps that consumers can use while driving will become the most popular. Apps that can be used only when the car is stopped will hold little appeal.

A large, unfragmented platform to attract a development community — Developers are more willing to create apps for a platform when they don't have to create multiple variants. That's why Apple maintains a consistent development environment and Google/Android tries to prevent fragmentation. Problem is, fragmentation could occur almost overnight in the automotive industry — imagine 10 different automakers with 10 different brands, each wanting a branded experience. To combat this, a common set of technologies for connected automotive application development (think web technologies) is essential. Current efforts to bring applications into cars all rely on proprietary SDKs, ensuring fragmentation.

Other barriers undoubtedly exist, but these are the most obvious.

By the way, don’t ask me for my prediction of when the 10 millionth app will ship in auto. There’s lots of work to be done first.


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