As more phone manufacturers and automotive OEMs develop ways to integrate smart phones and other devices with cars, the number of automotive application users will grow from 1.4 million in 2010 to more than 28 million in 2015, according to a research brief recently published by ABI Research.
“Automotive telematics and infotainment applications are quickly gaining momentum, with major automotive players such as Ford and Continental having announced open platforms and application stores," says ABI Research practice director Dominique Bonte. "At the same time Nokia’s Terminal Mode and Apple’s iPod Out initiatives aim at integrating smart phones into the car environment."
These automotive applications for the mobile device market include everything from multimedia and content streaming, to roadside assistance, driver monitoring, diagnostics, and remote control (i.e., engine start, door unlock, alarm). And as more electric vehicles enter the marketplace, consumers will see a greater need to monitor and manage the charging of their batteries, which will drive adoption of smart phone applications like the one GM has already made available for the Chevrolet Volt.
According to Bonte, there are four general application areas where smart phones and other mobile devices are playing a role in auto applications. First, mobile phones can be used in stand-alone applications to function as a GPS device or even a compass. "There are applications for these phones available that are very similar to what you would see in an expensive telematics solution like OnStar," Bonte says. "It's here that the link to the OBD-II BUS is gaining some traction."
These OnStar-like solutions can provide telematics functionality for drivers that do not want to invest in an OEM program, and can be used on any vehicle, relying on special OBD-II connectors that can be purchased for between $100 to $300 on average.
"You can monitor fuel consumption or driver behavior," Bonte says. "You can see a virtual dashboard on the phone. The next generation of cars will have digital clusters on the dashboard that can be just as configurable, and allow drivers to download new items or 'skins' to personalize the dashboard in the vehicle, as well."
That ties into the second class of applications, where the phones are integrated with an in-car display or audio system to provide a better user interface. "There has been talk in the industry from the handset manufacturers about creating standards for the car/phone interface so that whatever is seen on the smart phone can be seen on the vehicle display," Bonte says.
Smart phones can also be used as a remote control for embedded systems in the car. "OEMs with embedded telematics solutions are looking at smart phones as a way to remotely control the vehicle," Bonte says. "Remote door lock/unlock or remote engine start, for example. You could also check diagnostics that way, which would be important for electric vehicles. You want to be able to check the battery charge status so that you know when you leave, you can make it to your next destination."
Both BMW and Mercedes are offering on-board Internet access in vehicles like the Mercedes-Benz SLK, the Mercedes C class, and the BMW X3. Ford, meanwhile, has announced a mobile application development kit for its Sync system so that third-party developers can create remote control applications.
And finally, a fourth category is what Bonte calls hybrid systems, still under development, that would provide voice control for embedded vehicle systems. "The Ford Sync speech recognition option is one example," Bonte says. "You can bring the phone or music player into the car, and then control them using speech technology. It's a safer way to control those devices."
Diagnostics on the rise
For the aftermarket, the availability of low-cost, mobile diagnostic tools for consumers could potentially create new opportunities to connect with customers. There are a number of diagnostic applications that take advantage of a connection with the OBD-II port. Garmin, Devtoaster, Palmer Performance Engineering, Motolingo and Viper have developed solutions, which require either a Bluetooth or WLAN OBD-II connector module, and combine GPS data with vehicle speed, RPM, fuel consumption, engine coolant temperature, and fuel pressure to simulate dashboards or monitor vehicle performance. These systems could potentially give consumers access to trouble code information, as well.
A company called FuzzyLuke, for instance, has already launched an OBD-II solution for the iPhone for both consumers and repair shops. The Kiwi Wifi from PLX devices and goLINK Protocol Converter are available for iPhone-based diagnostic applications. Mercedes also provides vehicle connectivity via iPhone and Blackberry devices.
Bonte says it's still unclear which of these applications will lead the market over the next five years. "This is a crazy environment right now," Bonte says. "It's difficult to predict what application is going to grow the fastest right now. There are small companies coming up with applications we haven't even thought about yet, that will finally turn the car into a truly connected environment. Don’t be surprised if six months from now we're talking about an entirely different group of applications."