Exclusive to Paybefore. January 2013.
Siri, Apple’s voice assist for iOS devices, is already a steering wheel button on some late model cars. BMW has an option listed next to the premium leather seating called BMW Apps. Fords now include Sync, a Microsoft technology, and released the Ford Developer Program and a new open source SDK (software development kit) at CES 2013 earlier this month. These efforts mean popular apps such as Spotify, along with a number of new startups such as location sharing service Glympse, are as likely as satellite radio to be an option on your next car’s music menu.
Slowly but surely, our cars are becoming an extension of our device driven world, and the auto industry is following the app concept for software development and distribution popularized by smartphones. What you see today on your iPad or download for your Galaxy S III through Amazon or Google is likely to be offered for the dash of your car soon.
Beginning with the groundbreaking original iPhone in 2007, smartphones with apps offered much better options for a number of uses including navigation, music, productivity and, of course, casual games. Once these devices became trusted and indispensable to many of us, forward thinking retailers like Starbucks and Target and major banks started to offer their own apps.
Our apps now are our bank branches, comparison shopping tools, airline boarding passes and coupon organizers. For the few of us that really live in the future, we even have mobile wallets and virtual stored value cards to make payments as easy as pulling out a phone and tapping on the screen.
The move to vehicles-as-devices leaves many questions, and not just the obvious one of how to effectively drive while playing Angry Birds. Security will always be a concern, but app-ified vehicles cause interesting problems aside from hacking. If customers are concerned with mobile banking and payment apps that they carry around in their pocket, how will they react to loaning their car keys to a friend that could be using account information stored in the dash to roll through McDonalds on their dime?
We also don’t know yet who will control this environment and all the players involved - device makers, car makers, cellular providers, app developers, as well as software giants like Google and Microsoft - want their share of this potentially enormous pie.
Apps in cars could create interesting new partnerships and even shift consumer preference towards different manufacturers. Would you buy a VW over a Toyota if one easily integrated with apps you purchased for your iPad? We are about to find out. Ford’s partnership with Microsoft, for example, is meant to keep the US automaker on the leading edge of these technologies, but how many customers will lean towards the system they already use for their smartphone - 95% of which are either Apple or Google - when choosing a car?
Apps in cars present an entirely new set of design challenges, just as multi-touch screens have left some mouse-based software (Microsoft Office, anyone?) clamoring for continued relevance. Onboard apps won’t just have the capability to store a credit card, but they’ll largely be controlled by voice to keep drivers looking at the road. This generation of apps will also have to integrate with cloud services to take your information with you as you exit your vehicle, again suggesting customers will prefer platforms they already use and trust.
As onboard payment apps enter the mix to create even more design challenges and users adjust to billing their day-to-day activities directly to onboard apps, big opportunities arise for developers. Both established firms, like Square, that are well positioned in mobile and user experience design could see lucrative new partnerships with automakers, as well as new startups that want to be the Square of the auto industry.
The devices that changed how we work and brought simple, reliable software into all our lives will now change how we experience travel by car. There are many open questions in this space, but forward thinking companies are already making inroads with customers.