LAS VEGAS -- As the amount of information being fed into in-car telematics systems grows through mobile connectivity, vehicles will expand their ability to capture and share not only internal systems status and location data, but also changes in surroundings in real time.
Cars will be able to communicate with other vehicles, or even traffic lights, and predict how conditions will affect a commute, adjusting in-vehicle navigation or even taking over control from the driver, if so desired.
"Cars will become the first robot most of us experience in our lifetime," said Gartner analyst Thilo Koslowski.
Koslowski, who was speaking at the Consumer Telematics Show in Las Vegas today, said a major theme this year will be service providers, such as ISPs and mobile carriers, expanding their ecosystems into the auto telematics supply chain - providing the connectivity and apps required for a full-mobile user experience.
Like OS and app upgrades on mobile devices today, software upgrades to infotainment systems will happen automatically and wirelessly, he said. Vehicles will be connected to the cloud, enabling users to upload data from wearable devices as well as access personal data stored at home or through cloud services.
Ultimately, your car will become just another part of your mobile data plan.
"AT&T has already said they will have that in GM vehicles going forward," Koslowski said. "Cars will be the predominant platform for the Internet of Things. It may even be mandated that your car have connectivity, instead of it being a luxury."
There could even come a day when cars will be discounted -- or free -- depending on how long consumers are willing to commit to a data plan, Kowlowski said. "Maybe you'll get a car for free if you sign up for lifetime data contract," he said. "If you change this to something a little less dramatic, and talk about a discounted vehicle purchase with an eight-year contract..., how many people would be interested in this?
"I was surprised to see quite a few [of those surveyed] were interested in this - 38%," he continued. "Obviously, you're not going to get a Ferrari or Porsche or Audi heavily discounted because you sign up for a data contract, but a smaller vehicle, absolutely."
Kevin Link, general manager of Verizon's Telematics division, said telematics systems have developed from a first iteration of onboard help services, such as GM's OnStar system, to vehicle diagnostics that provide manufacturers with data about mechanical performance.
The next generation of connected cars, or "telematics 3.0," will expand the value chain beyond the obvious, offering traffic condition info to the car as well as emissions data to the driver.
Telematics 3.0 will also offer service providers a great deal of information they can use for marketing purposes. For example, the systems will be able to tell streaming media services what you're listening to, and point of interest (POI) services in onboard GPS systems will tell companies when a driver has searched for them, and whether the driver stopped in.
A driver who visits a particular coffee shop or a golf course might be targeted for marketing and advertising via mobile apps available through the car's telematics system.
"Why is Google getting into the auto space? If you think about what Google has and what they don't have, location is one of the missing elements of the Google model," Link said. "They know everything else, except where we transact."
Car manufacturers falling behind
In the meantime, vehicle manufacturers risk falling behind or even being left out of the mobile telematics equation. "I'm a little worried these big Internet companies may dominate this space and leave very little for automotive companies," Koslowski added.
He pointed to Google's announcement Monday of an Open Automotive Alliance, aimed at bringing Android OS to the telematics systems of several vehicle manufacturers. Google announced plans to bring Android to cars by the end of this year.
Audi, General Motors (GM), Honda, Hyundai and chip maker Nvidia were all part of the launch of the Open Automotive Alliance.
"Having your own secure cloud of information connected to your vehicle, that's what Google's...announcement was all about," Koslowski said.
For example, the owner of a car would be able to connect his or her Android smartphone and any cloud services enabled through that. At the same time, if another family member wanted to borrow the car, they, too, could use Android by simply connecting their smartphone to the car's telematics system.
Tech companies such as Google are expected to have increasing influence in the mobile options vehicle makers can offer - and consumers want it that way.
According to a Gartner survey released today, 57% of vehicle owners said they want technology vendors to influence decisions about their car's mobile capabilities in the years ahead. Forty-three percent want automakers to be the main influencer of mobile tech.
The survey also revealed that 47% of respondents want to use mobile apps while driving. At the same time, 89% said they're concerned that access to in-vehicle mobile apps will be a driving distraction.
Jaguar, Land Rover add mobile apps to telematics
Peter Vrik, head of connected technologies and apps for Jaguar, said his company will now be offering iOS and Android mobile apps natively on its infotainment systems through a partnership with Bosch SoftTec and its mySPIN app integration software.
Jaguar's InControl Apps mobile application platform connects a car's telematics and infotainment system to a mobile phone or tablet through the use of a standard USB cord. Once connected, apps that have been enabled through Bosh SoftTec's in-vehicle integration software automatically show up for use on the infotainment system.
For example, iHeart Radio streaming music service, parking location assist Parkopedia and real-time traffic navigation system INRIX will all be available in upcoming vehicles, Vrik said. Vrik listed 11 apps that are currently available, but said that list will continue to expand.
"By 2010, we target to have 20 million smartphones connected via mySPIN," said Dietmar Meister, director smartphone and cloud solutions at Bosch
"Customers want the latest apps and updates in their car. They want to use the apps that are already there," Vrik said. "Users want to make sure the app has the DNA of the original app. Don't try to make them look different."
Lucas Mearian covers consumer data storage, consumerization of IT, mobile device management, renewable energy, telematics/car tech and entertainment tech for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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