While major media and cable companies talk about four screen strategies the telematics industry is abuzz over the emergence of a three screen world. This was never more clear than at last week’s Telematics Update event in Novi, Mich. From OEMs to tier ones, software and service providers, the focus is on leveraging handsets, head units and the Internet to create closer and more profitable customer relationships.
Companies on hand preaching the three-screen gospel included Nokia, Continental, Airbiquity, WirelessCar, RealVNC, QNX, Google, ATX, Tweddle Group Technologies and Parrot. The solutions demonstrated and debated point the way to a more connected experience in the car where the customer can access vehicle related information from outside the vehicle or on a phone or online when away from the vehicle. Even meta data provider Rovi and HMI supplier TAT offered their contributions to the three-screen vision.
Nokia described and defended its terminal mode technology, a European-oriented campaign built around what some term a “screen scrape” transfer of a smartphone’s display along with a shift of device control to the vehicle HMI. Nokia intends to equip all of its smartphones with terminal mode technology by early 2011 and is working through the CE4A coalition to coordinate tier one head unit implementation of the technology throughout Europe, where Nokia’s market share is strongest.
Using similar technology, RealVNC showed development tools for extending terminal mode technology into a wider range of devices and markets. While Nokia claimed to have two competing handset makers interested in the terminal mode solution, RealVNC’s more agnostic approach offers a suitable alternative.
Airbiquity promoted its in-band modem technology by extending the platform to include a customized user interface, tied to the user’s mobile phone, along with app store functionality and location and user-relevant advertising messages. Airbiquity is increasingly taking on the role of a content aggregator, tying together content and applications in a single user interface.
Airbiquity's Bluetooth-based approach was presented as a powerful and low-cost data-over-voice/packet alternative to packet-only solutions which require a payment for dial-up networking or SPP monthly service fees. Airbiquity estimates that OEMs deploying packet-only solutions will limit themselves to 20% of the penetratable market of which only 3-5% will have extra carrier service plan for BT DUN/SPP packet connectivity.
On top of the data-over-voice solution, Airbiquity is layering its Choreo cloud service for both consumer and commercial markets. Airbiquity says Choreo allows OEMs to convert the car to an IT platform, creating a global infrastructure for content and service delivery.
WirelessCar has also stepped into the content aggregator role, showing a clever vehicle-to-smartphone integration providing some basic vehicle control functionality and information access. The WirelessCar solution suggested the long-anticipated realization of a vehicle portal also accessible via smartphone for sharing vital vehicle data with the owner. OnStar has found this approach, with key vehicle status information, to be a valuable tool for driving customer traffic and service revenue via the dealer channel.
To drive home its message, WirelessCar led a panel discussion with Ericsson and Cybercom, representing the wireless carrier and software integration perspectives on the implementation of a three-screen world. Actually, WirelessCar has been pushing and demonstrating this concept for at least three years.
Tweddle Group Technologies – the combination of Tweddle Group with UIEvolution’s former automotive division – is also looking to fill the content aggregator role. The company brings to the table its long history in the owner’s manual business – which itself is transitioning to electronic delivery – along with a relationship with Pandora.
The Tweddle solution, which allows for the delivery of text and video content - via head unit or handset - related to vehicle systems has intriguing possibilities if integrated with CAN inputs such as alerts or other status messages. Tweddle has yet to marry these two sources of data, but the concept is certainly a powerful one.
QNX has also envisioned sharing vehicle status information with the driver via on-board displays. The QNX LTE Car demo includes a “Virtual Mechanic” for providing the driver with images of vehicle systems and their status. Given Toyota’s recent disastrous recalls, the opportunity for these types of systems to catch on is strong.
For its part ATX was demonstrating its new application for integration with Mercedes Benz’s TeleAid telematics service. The app provides for some basic vehicle control along with the ability to remotely send a destination to the vehicle’s navigation system.
Continental’s AutolinQ concept may be a little ahead of its time in promising an on-board app store experience in an Android operating system environment. While car makers and suppliers have broadly embraced a variety of Linux distributions, Android is still running up against some industry prejudice over the issue of vulnerability to hacking and other perceived weaknesses.
Industry buzz suggests that Android is being accepted and even specified in some RFQs, which is certainly a promising development for Continental. The growing Android momentum in the automotive, mobile and even consumer electronics markets suggests that Continental is on the right track.
In support of its campaign, Continental announced an eco-system of solution providers contributing to the platform including Ygomi, Inrix, Navteq, Navigon and Deutsche Telekom. Continental will no doubt be flexible regarding these relationships if it means sacrificing a partner to obtain a new contract. But at least now the Continental vision has been clarified as a fully evolved proposition.
Delphi executives attended the event, but did not demonstrate their own connectivity platform: D-Connect. Delphi has been vocal in its support of connectivity to Android devices, but resistance to building Android into the head unit. Since D-Connect has not been publicly announced it is hard to predict how Delphi’s final implementation will arrive in the market.
Tier two Parrot showed chipsets optimized for mobile device connectivity including the latest Bluetooth protocols and Wi-Fi. Android also figures prominently in Parrot’s plans including some active programs, according to the company.
Google announced additional “Send to” partners at the event – OnStar and Ford. For Google, the message for the industry is that it is a cloud-based world. Applications are no longer launched for desktop computers, they are launched on and for the Internet. Google’s recommendation is clearly that car makers facilitate cloud connections either on board or via mobile devices.
OnStar, with the most powerful brand in the telematics industry, faces perhaps the greatest challenge in developing a cloud-oriented strategy. Not only must the company integrate its infotainment and telematics teams – long at odds over key applications such as Bluetooth connectivity and navigation – it must also reposition a brand identified almost entirely in relation to safety and security, not entertainment.
The path is far from clear, but the promise of additional revenue from dealer service work to content consumption and, overall, a tighter relationship with the customer has car makers and their suppliers working overtime. All agree, at last, that the future lies in three screens.
Leading the way are OnStar and Ford, each of which has defined its own three-screen strategy. BMW and Daimler are the next logical candidates to implement the handset-head unit-Internet approach.
All of which points to common elements in future telematics solutions including: app stores (accessible via all three screens), vehicle control (across and between platforms), access to vehicle status information (all screens), content aggregation partner and back-end system provider, cloud-based content and services, and provision for multiple-handset compatibility. The emergence of these common threads are helping to clarify the future deployment of telematics systems speeding the delivery of in-vehicle connectivity.
*Editor's note: Airbiquity executives suggested amending the strategy to FOUR screens. This week, Microsoft's embedded software division touted a FIVE screen strategy at the Fachkongress Elektronik in Ludwigsburg.
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