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May 12, 2015

The Connected Car Epiphany

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I’ve become a believer in the Connected Car, after wondering for quite some time why I should care about the concept at all. But my epiphany, if you can call it that, only came about when I didn’t buy one - and that doesn’t bode too well for the current market.

I bought a Jeep Wrangler, which is far from being a connected car but is the perfect mid-life crisis vehicle. Works for me, but what could have been in my car open is an open road of opportunity. My new purchase has an in-navigation system – as do a lot of cars today, despite that fact that anyone with a smartphone could pull up a map system and get where they need to go. The problem is I won’t be able to get where I am going if I am sitting in traffic and my new car’s navigation system doesn’t support traffic updates. Seriously?

So I’m stuck with the error of my ways and with a navigation system that is only halfway useful. But… if this was a “connected car” I’d presumably be able to simply down load a better mapping solution; end of problem.

And herein lies the epiphany part of all of this. When mobile carriers and car manufacturers talk about the “Connected Car” I immediately think about the connection: about getting broadband to the car so I can stream video to my kids in the back seat.  The problem is  I can already do that with my phone, so why do I need another data pipe in my car for an additional fee? 

But, if you change the name to “Intelligent Car” or “Smart Car” (which is, of course, is already taken and brings up its own vision of a little squished city car) and the usefulness starts to become apparent. Think of the smartphone: sure, it has a data pipe, but that’s not what makes it successful. What makes it all work are the apps and other things you can do with the data pipe. The same is true of an integrated data pipe in a car. If this pipe leads to an app store, with a choice of relevant apps, then suddenly my car gains intelligence. For example, rather than just a weather app, perhaps the integrated app would know that I’ve taken the roof down, but also that it is going to rain soon. An alert to my phone (assuming I’ve walked away from the car) would be very useful.

Okay, it’s a bit of a niche example, but that’s kind of the point. Once the apps store is available, there can be a torrent of niche apps, most of which can help improve the car beyond the basic options of search, navigation and video. After all, it’s not how big the pipe to the car is, it’s what you can do with it that counts.



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