Today when we decide to buy a smartphone, we do so not keeping in mind how great the call quality is. We prioritise a good screen, a vast app store and great speakers over a decent microphone. In less than five years, we will see the same happening to consumers purchasing a new car.
Considering how much time people spend commuting, chances are people will want to go for a vehicle which not only gives them great drive quality but also keeps them connected and entertained at the same time. This is possible by making the in-car infotainment system an extension of the user’s preferred one. The logical conclusion is to build an in-car infotainment system which embodies or is at least compatible with your smartphone or your tablet, so you can switch from one to another with minimal disruption.
According to a Forrester research on connected cars, there are four types of applications that define a connected vehicle - infotainment/media, advanced telematics, vehicle-to-X communications and autonomous driving capabilities. Achieving all of these might take the better part of the next decade. It’s a good thing then that a bunch of companies are already on it.
QNX, a real-time operating system, made headlines recently as potentially replacing Microsoft’s Sync in Ford Motors’ infotainment systems. Interestingly, the company, which was acquired by BlackBerry in 2010 (and on which the BB10 platform is based), has been a leading infotainment system of choice among many carmakers including General Motors, Honda Motor and Hyundai Motor. Apart from infotainment, it also uses software to optimise hands-free systems, driver information systems and advanced driver assistance.
Some carmakers have already made progress without having to wait for new technology in the market.
Audi, for example, leverages existing Google Earth with 3D satellite imagery, Google Maps Street View and Google Voice Local Search to make navigation easier. Audi Connect is also one of the very few carmakers that offer a built-in Wi-Fi router that lets up to eight passengers connect at a time.
The future of in-car infotainment does not only present never-seen-before interactions for users but also opens up endless possibilities for developers and businesses as well. A connected car can not only help you navigate, access entertainment or stay hooked to the web on the go; it can also, for example, detect you’re low on fuel and direct you to the nearest gas station. In case of a breakdown, it can send an SOS to a garage nearby who could come and fix the issue for you. You need not ever be late to a meeting again, you could just as well have a conference call from within your car as you would have from your cubicle.
Ravi Manik, Director, Business Development, Broadcom, says, “Connectivity with wearable devices is now possible, allowing the car to issue an alert to you when the driver is falling asleep or suffering from a health condition. The car can then take the actions necessary, such as rolling down the window or turning the radio on to a loud volume, to alert the driver and avoid dangerous situations.”
“Connected cars can be smarter, seamless and safer; but above all they must be social. It is the ability of vehicles to connect to one another that supports every other aspect of their potential. Cars that can communicate using a common technological standard have far more sources of data available to them to help guide their drivers and keep them safe, than those that can only use their own bespoke channels,” says Remy Pothet of TNS Automotive.
A study by Forrester research shows that 66 per cent of urban Indians want to be able to receive location-based information and status updates regarding friends and family while driving a car. Around 60 per cent also admitted to the need for constant access to the internet while driving as well as to an app store where they could download apps for use inside the car.
Desires aside, there are several pieces that need to be worked on before we can complete the connected car puzzle. A major stumbleblock in the way of connected cars, at least in India, is broadband connectivity. Unless and until operators, and consequently consumers, strive to adopt faster, wider connectivity, connected cars might remain a distant dream.
Another worry is a seamless interface design which minimises the risk of the driver getting distracted. It’s critical to build a connected car interface in such a way that most commands and apps can be executed with voice commands or gestures that do not involve the driver taking his eyes off the road.