The Internet of Things is affecting pretty much everything at the 2014 International CES taking place in Las Vegas. Cars are in the vanguard of this change, as various players try to get their services inside more vehicles, and inside the mind and wallet of the driver.
With cars now packing 4G, working smoothly with a smartwatch or phone, and with access to masses of data, soon the seat of your car could be just as homey as the couch.
Welcome to the Truly Connected Car
With in-the-know types like Cisco CEO John Chambers valuing the Internet of Things at around $19 trillion in the near future, us mortals can only guess at the impact it will have on our lives. One thing is for sure, the tide is coming, with everything from kitchen goods to sports gear transitioning from old-and-dumb to new-and-smart at a rapid pace.
One of the big pushes this year comes from the auto hall where unmanned robotic vehicles compete with the latest green -- hydrogen-sipping -- models. But, all of them are coalescing around the connected concept. From a practical perspective, linking the cars to users' smartphones is just the first step.
Cars are now packing 4G to provide better data flow, linking to smartwatches to provide information, while Audi's laser-toting cars offer real-world self-drive (changes in law permitting). Beyond that there is a wider world of information services, navigation and content (for all those screens in the headrests) to sell. Going the other way up the data chain will be information on the users' movements and auto usage to help improve car care, security and other functions.
Choose Your In-Car Ecosystem
How long will it be until you have to choose a car on the basis of which operating system it runs? Google is running with the Open Automotive Alliance to create a standard for Android devices and software to work with in-car systems from Audi, GM, Hyundai and Honda, with cars due by the end of the year. Apple has separate partnerships with Honda and Hyundai to get its car-friendly iOS 7 operating system into their models.
In-car systems in the Chevrolet Sonic are applying better screens, visuals and connectivity
Honda's 2014 Civic range comes with HondaLink apps for Android and iOS, allowing access to nearby facilities, radio stations, social media and other features. Note the poor ratings and reviews on the iOS store, suggesting there is plenty of work to do in user interface and experience design to do for Honda and other companies. App design studios with suitable vision should be pushing their designs to automakers like crazy.
Ford's own SYNC AppLink is powered by Microsoft technology but works with both Android and iPhone (but not yet Windows Phone), and most makers are looking for cross-platform support. For users, that means apps with features to perhaps start the car (something third-party, wire-in products, like Viper SmartSmart currently offer), and perhaps kick in the heaters and de-ice the windows on cold mornings.
Driving into the Future
A GSM Association report (PDF) from last year reckons that the market for connected cars will triple in five years, and all cars will be connected by 2025. That seems rather slow, looking from the goldfish bowl of International CES where cars can do everything but fly (except for one particular DeLorean) but any buyer of a new car will have trouble finding a plain-old dumb model come 2015.
Would you be happier with a more connected car? Or does the implied loss of privacy outweigh the benefit of dodging a snarl-up on the Interstate or avoiding an expensive service? Will businesses really see better sales as cars glide into the parking lot, guided by satellite navigation and customer recommendation? Either way, connected cars are here and becoming smarter all the time.