How Smartphones are the Future of the Connected Car Industry

April 6, 2016  |  By Michael O'Shea  |       

Consumers hear about vehicle connectivity on a pretty regular basis these days. While for those of us in the industry the technology is familiar, the average driver might have little to zero hands-on experience with it. This fact can breed distrust of connectivity features, or at best make people wonder what all the hype is really about.

Instead of waiting for the technology to eventually filter through the vehicle market by depending on connectivity features in head units, there's another way. OEMs can leverage the power of the smartphone, something that's being discussed quite a bit in the auto industry.

Mobile devices provide some unique opportunities that can't be duplicated by an embedded vehicle system. Smartphones provide OEMs with a way to extend the customer experience further, including activities before, during and after a trip in a vehicle.

Vehicle Turnover

The fact is that people drive their cars for more than a few years. A robust pre-owned vehicle market also helps ensure that older cars stay on the road for quite some time, contributing to a slow turnover in the market.

About 9 percent of all vehicles in the United States are replaced in an average year. That means a large portion of the population won't enjoy the latest and greatest technologies in head units until long after the innovations are no longer considered groundbreaking.

Other people buy newer cars, but they can't afford one with an infotainment system, or they might choose a more affordable model as a way to save money.

Whatever the reason, the industry can reach these drivers through their smartphones. WebLink allows OEMs to get cutting-edge features into the hands of vehicle owners, enriching their experience on a regular basis.

Smartphone Usage

Just about everyone has a smartphone these days, making them the perfect way to boost continued innovation in the connected car industry. Cars without infotainment systems, or models with grossly outdated technologies, can be almost instantly outfitted with the latest technology.

This means drivers can start to benefit from services they currently don't even have the option of using, such as:

  • Navigation: Even if a car has a navigation system, drivers might not use it if they find it inconvenient. Using a smartphone, they can choose the navigation app they're familiar and comfortable with. It also allows drivers to plot their whole journey, which can include walking, biking or taking public transit before or after driving in their vehicle.

  • Vehicle Management: Drivers will quickly realize that getting alerts for maintenance schedules, recording driving metrics and more proves useful in their daily life, allowing them to proactively manage the car ownership experience.

  • Streaming Entertainment: Thanks to the data connection available through the smartphone, users can stream music, podcasts and more through the sound system. This means consumers aren't at the mercy of what features were originally included in the car, allowing them to use the service of their choice (Pandora, Spotify, etc.)

  • Driving Analysis: Car owners will be able to see vehicle usage, tracking fuel economy over time, allowing them to conserve fuel and notice patterns they might not have realized without the technology.
All of these benefits and more can be easily enjoyed by consumers through WebLink. Drivers also get to use the same apps they’re comfortable with on their smartphone, making it more user-friendly and customizable than a traditional IVI.

Improving On-Road Safety

Quite a few drivers use smartphones while driving, despite the risks, with some studies suggesting the rate now around 70 percent. Plenty of warnings about how dangerous using a smartphone while behind the wheel are available to consumers, yet few clearly heed them.

This puts everyone on the road in great danger. According to the US government, deaths and injuries resulting from distracted driving are on the rise.

Voice-activated services are an emerging technology that has the ability to truly shift driver habits. As it’s developed further, on-road safety will be improved. Unfortunately, that’s still sometime in the future. Once the tech reaches that point, users will view their phone as an asset that allows them to manage their whole day, before, during and after a trip in their vehicle.

Data Plans

Based on our research, consumers don't like the idea of purchasing another data plan for their vehicle. This means many newer cars have an embedded modem that's never utilized, or once the free promotional period is exhausted, it's never used again.

Instead of leaving these vehicles disconnected, OEMs can overcome this challenge by opening up the possibility of leveraging smartphones as a connectivity option. Every time a driver gets into a car, they always have a mobile device in their pocket or purse. This option helps conserve money, which is a major concern for quite a few people.

Consumers also have the ability to keep vehicle connectivity tech updated. Instead of having to purchase a new vehicle to get the latest and greatest IVI, they can just buy a new smartphone.

The embedded modem and related hardware in a car will age and become outdated throughout the life of the vehicle, so this is a great way to overcome those limitations. The fact that SmartLink works on every smartphone on the market makes it a great way to connect vehicles and mobile devices.

Quick and Easy Installation

Not everyone is tech-savvy, but they do want to take advantage of useful features. If OEMs push out the message that connecting a smartphone to a vehicle is a quick and easy process, quite a few consumers should respond positively.

The fact is a number of vehicle infotainment systems are still confusing for drivers. Instead of having to deal with complicated, less-than-intuitive menus and commands, users can use the device they're already familiar with.

Personalized Experience

Perhaps the biggest benefit of connecting a car through a smartphone is the ability to personalize the experience. When a person uses a head unit to access different connectivity features in a car, the level of personalization is rather low. This is true even in vehicles where users can re-configure the menus, add apps and introduce other personal touches.

The fact is that smartphones are highly integrated into users' lives. They're used for a number of highly personal activities:

  • Contacts: Most people don't even know their close friends' and relatives' phone numbers by heart, because that information is stored on their smartphone. Addresses, email and more is also stored on phones. This information can allow drivers to ask for directions to a contact's house or office while driving, among other useful possibilities.

  • Appointments: Instead of remembering when they're supposed to see the dentist or meet with a work associate, many use their smartphone to keep these engagements organized. By connecting the car to the device, there's the chance to not only help with reminders, but integrate the appointments with the navigation system so directions are already pulled up.

  • Music: The fact is most people store music on their phone, plus have at least one streaming app on it. Instead of having to configure their preferences on a car's head unit, connecting a smartphone provides all of these preferences through the sound system. This is a tremendous convenience that adds serious value to the user experience.
People also use any number of specific apps on their smartphone. With vehicle head units, many of those apps just simply aren't available. While there are similar options, users often insist on using what they're already familiar with. An example would be someone who doesn't want to use Google Maps through the vehicle infotainment system, preferring the Waze app on their phone.

Providing a way for drivers to bring all, not some, of the apps from their smartphone and use them while in the vehicle will help secure the future of car connectivity. Instead of people viewing getting into a vehicle as something that disrupts their daily use of mobile technology, they'll begin to see cars as an integral part of it.

Do you see smartphones continuing to gain ground in the connected car industry?

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Topics: Connected Car - Technology

Michael O'Shea

Michael O’Shea is the Founder and CEO of Abalta Technologies. He is responsible for all aspects of executive management of Abalta and a direct participant in many client engagements, particularly in management advisory projects.

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