Continental AG’s Filling Assistant app can graphically display whether a car’s tires have reached the proper pressure. Or it can make the car honk its horn when a tire is full. Click on photo for larger view.
Continental is also designing unique apps that will enhance vehicle performance. For instance, the Filling Assistant will detect underinflated tires and notify the driver. When the driver goes to inflate the tires, the Filling Assistant will report pressure information to the driver’s smartphone and honk the car’s horn or flash its lights to indicate when a tire has enough air.
"The number of applications that can be developed to improve the driving experience, safety, and vehicle performance is endless," says Kieran O’Sullivan, executive vice president for Continental’s Infotainment and Connectivity business unit. "What is critical is to bring only those apps and content that will be of value to the driver and the driving experience."
Not to be left out, Toyota, the world’s leading automaker, debuted the QNX-based Entune at CES 2011. Entune is an upgradable suite of entertainment, navigation, and information functions. "Consumers have grown accustomed to having the world at their fingertips through their mobile phones," says Jon Bucci, vice president of Toyota’s advanced technology department, who notes that putting them in the car is a natural evolution.
Toyota’s Entune system features the OpenTable app, a godsend to travelers looking to make restaurant reservations in an unfamiliar city. Click on image for larger view.
After downloading the Toyota Entune app to a handset and syncing it with the Toyota vehicle, the driver can begin accessing content and services, including Bing for Web navigation and OpenTable, which can make reservations at any one of 15 000 restaurants, with directions sent seamlessly to the navigation system and information appearing on the center console. Entune also lets a driver get customizable real-time traffic updates, sports, weather, stocks, and information on prices at local fueling stations. The system doesn’t forget music, which has almost always been a part of the driving experience. Entune includes Iheartradio, which delivers roughly 750 local radio stations at the touch of a button.
The tide of apps extending handset capabilities to cars will only continue to rise. ABI Research, in Oyster Bay, N.Y., reports that the number of users of automotive apps will increase from 1.4 million in 2010 to more than 28 million by 2015. And according to Global Industry Analysts, the vehicle telematics market is expected to reach US $11.2 billion by 2015.
Who knows where the killer automotive apps will come from? Ford says it is reviewing more than a thousand new apps from independent developers. And new ones are landing on the virtual shelves in iPhone and Android app stores every day. A sampling of them includes: Carbonga, a $5 app for iPhones that prevents service stations from ripping you off, by downloading the diagnostic information that explains why the "Check Engine" light is on; Where Did We Park?, an app for Android phones that uses GPS to help you set a digital breadcrumb for finding your car in, say, a massive sports arena parking lot after a game; and Waze, which gives iPhone, Android, Symbian, and Windows Mobile smartphone owners turn-by-turn directions using real-time traffic conditions to set the route.
The question now becomes how automakers, always concerned about liability, will manage the dissemination of apps that can be downloaded to a car and activated while the multiton mobile device is on the road. They know they’ll stifle innovation if they create a closed market. But they must wrestle with how to effectively evaluate whether a piece of software will present a glitch that will cause erratic driving or take too much attention away from the actual operation of the vehicle.
"We need to manage the flow of information to the driver and ensure that the presentation of the information will not distract the driver," says Continental’s O’Sullivan. "Continental’s mission is to keep the driver focused on the road and their primary driving task."
Mohamed Alkady, CEO of after10studios in Santa Monica, Calif., which produced the Viper-SmartStart iPhone app that lets a driver start his car, lock or unlock the doors, or open the trunk from anywhere in the world, says automakers are still casting about for the right type of apps to present the consumer. It’s happening in part, he says, because automakers are using apps to create a connection between the driver experience and a particular car brand. The result of this marketing mission is that “what some automakers are looking for in apps and what they need to be looking for are not the same,” Alkady says.
Thilo Koslowski, the lead automotive industry analyst at Gartner, headquartered in Stamford, Conn., agrees. “In the world of desktop and handheld computing devices, there’s no problem with Apple’s statement that ‘There’s an app for that,’ meaning whatever you’d like to do is fine,” he says. “In the automotive world, the question has to be, ‘Should there be an app for that?’ ” Koslowski says it’s not about getting thousands of applications into the car but integrating the ones that matter most. “But the car manufacturers seem to be still searching, trying to find what are the ‘golden apps,’ ” he says. “In some cases, I think that they are lost.” As an example, he points to plans to implement automotive apps for social networking programs such as Facebook and Twitter, while consumers surveyed by the company say they want things such as map updates, information on points of interest and refueling stations located along the route they’re driving, weather, and Internet radio.
The app maker and the analyst agree that consumer choice will eventually sort out the automotive app market, causing efforts to be focused almost exclusively on taking applications from consumers’ phones that make sense when they’re behind the wheel and integrating them into the car itself.