The car industry has come a long way since Henry Ford said customers could have a Model T Ford in any colour “so long as it is black.”
Today, the automobile market is all about choice – dozens of colours, and any combination of features from power steering to heated seats.
Or course, the ultimate form of personalisation for drivers is less about the specs of the car itself than the experience they have when they’re on a journey: entertainment, navigation, communication.
With the arrival of connected car technologies, a new era for drivers awaits.
For manufacturers? Well, it’s complicated.
Auto makers have to decide whether to build their own in-car systems for linking connected car drivers to smart services – or to simply let drivers plug in their smartphones.
Should they embed a SIM? Connect by wifi? And what kind of interface should they design to give motorists plenty of utility and fun without causing them to crachcrash into trees?
The high-end car maker Jaguar Land Rover thinks hard about these questions.
In the past some car makers have developed their own systems even though drivers seem to want to use their phones. How does JLR Jaguar Land Rover handle this?
Our strategy is based around having both built-in connectivity and allowing the car to communicate with the phone as well. We don’t see them as separate.
The truth is our customers will bring the devices they want into the vehicle. We know that people place a higher priority on their choice of phone than on their choice of vehicle. Lots of surveys have shown that.
They have an expectation that their phones will just work, and we support that.
So how does the connected car sync with the phone?
We have an app called InControl Touch, which lets people connect their nomadic devices to the vehicle. We have a number of apps – Stitcher and Parkopedia and others – that have been optimised for our vehicles and they sit inside InControl.
Another option inside the app is justDrive. This bundles programs like Spotify, Twitter, and Yelp. When you download these and you plug your phone into the car, they will come up on the touchscreen and be tailored to work with the car UI.
They go into landscape mode, and can be controlled from steering wheel or by voice activation so you don’t need to look at the touchscreen.
For passengers, we provide wifi hotspots too using an antenna on the roof.
How are these apps adapted for the car?
We have an SDK. Developers use it to enable their apps for the systems. We tend to work with apps that are useful for driving such as apps for parking locations, music streaming and so on.
We have around 30 to 40 in production. It varies by territory, but we aim to support the top 10 driver-centric apps available in every country.
How does this fit alongside Apple and Google’s own in-car platforms (Apple Car and Android Auto)?
Like I said, we have to support everything. People just expect choice, so we will work with Apple and Google. At the moment though, I think developers find them a bit restrictive, and anyway there just aren’t many apps available for them.
What about in-car systems that don’t involve the phone?
We use an embedded SIM. We need something that’s automotive grade so it’s soldered in, and it can withstand high temperatures and vibration.
It’s what we call telematics, and it’s primarily about driver safety and security really. In event of a crash, the system can notify emergency services, for example.
But it’s also for convenience. If you’re away from the vehicle you can control the in-car system from the Android or iOS InControl Remote app.
You can see the location, fuel levels, diagnostics. You can open the doors of the car, pre-heat it, keep journey records for expenses, check tyre pressure. It will even give walking directions to the car from any distance.
I think we have to have some internal systems purely because of life cycles. Phones are almost disposable, whereas our vehicles have to stay on road for 10+ years. You just won’t expect your phone to work in 10 years.
That means the M2M platform should work for ten years too. The challenge comes from factors like the sunsetting of certain technologies. So if, for example, the networks turn off 3G, we’d have to look at making our in-car systems upgradable. That is something car makers don’t generally do.
It’s a challenge. Some things can be done over the air. But when it comes down to the hardware level, it’s something we can’t change easily.
How are car makers like JLR Jaguar Land Rover preparing for linking the connected car to the Internet of Things?
You can argue the connected car will be one of the most expensive things in the Internet of Things. So it will play its part.
However, you have to ask what are the use cases: just because I can connect may my car to a fridge, would I want to? What helps me on my journey? What makes sense?
We’re looking at the concept of the self-learning connected car. When the car knows the intent of the driver, it all becomes more useful.
If the car knows I am approaching my local supermarket, for example, it could tell me what I need. The car has to learn this, because you generally don’t set the route for journeys you take all the time.
It’s some way off though. As it stands, the Internet of Things uses lots of different standards. They’re not joined up, so we will have to choose our partnerships carefully, and wait to see which platforms get established.
Assume these standards emerge, what scenarios could play out?
Smart cities definitely. Things like anticipating traffic, automated parking and integrating into other transports scenarios to make journeys easier. Most car journeys also involve a journey by foot or train or bus and so on.