Smartphones on wheels – are we there yet?

By The App Business under Insights 14 June 2013

With the SMMT International Automotive Summit commencing in London this week, auto and technology are top of mind. The App Business has been looking at the possibilities for 3rd party app developers to contribute to the new wave of “smartphones on wheels”.

App developers are increasingly looking to push software products into non traditional markets and the automobile industry is no exception. With analysts predicting the market for in-vehicle apps to be worth “just short of $1.2 billion” by 2017, many of the car industry heavyweights are already looking to grab a piece of the pie.

The question this raises is how will 3rd party app developers take advantage of this potential goldmine? And which platform looks the most likely to succeed?

Built-in digital dashboards seem to be the way forward for car manufacturers to create a more digital driving experience. BMW has been developing its ConnectedDrive digital interface in time for 2015. It will allow drivers to download a mixture of BMW and third party apps from a custom BMW app store directly to their dashboards. General Motors and Blackberry have also been developing similar digital interfaces, with Blackberry recently showcasing its QNX CAR Platform in partnership with Bentley’s latest batch of cars.

With all of these companies sharing their software building kits the opportunity is there for 3rd party app developers to chip in with their own apps. However, this is only limited to the Android market as Apple has been more protective of its automobile API’s.

Apple’s solution is iOS Drive, which favours iPhone integration over a car manufactured digital dashboard. It enables drivers to control a docked iPhone via a Siri Eyes Free button in the middle of the steering wheel – Ferrari, Honda Motors, Kia, Mercedes, Nissan, Chevrolet, Hyundai, Volvo and Jaguar are all said to be releasing Siri Eyes Free integrated cars in 2014.

All of this sets up another twist in the Android vs Apple battle for digital supremacy. iOS Drive could prove to be a cheaper, more consumer friendly solution as iPhone users will already be using an interface that they are comfortable with. However, offering the bait to 3rd party Android app developers could up the rate of innovation, increasing the opportunity for ground breaking consumer apps to hit the automotive market.

So is the automobile apps market profitable enough for 3rd party app developers to pursue?

This remains to be seen. Currently digital dashboards are going to be reserved for the niche market that is both tech savvy and wealthy enough to buy a high end car, limiting profitability.

Safety is also another potential stumbling block for developers as automobile apps could prove to be a dangerous distraction on the road. One imagines that safety regulations could significantly narrow the scope for the type of app that can be on a car’s dashboard.

Nonetheless it is still early days.

Watch this space…