Will 2015 be the Year of the Connected Car?
For the last few years Google has been showing off self-driving cars, and the world’s reaction has been, well, kinda “meh”. Sure, it would be cool to hop in your vehicle, say “Ok, Google take me to work”, and then sit back and enjoy the ride. But the amount of infrastructure and technology advancements needed severely limits the rollout, at least at this time. So instead of fully getting to the self-driving car now, Google demoed Android Auto at Google I/O in late June 2014.
Now Google consistently has a long reveal-to-release cycle – heck GMail took years to exit Beta – and Android Auto has been no exception. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that they finally released the APIs for developers to begin to create with, followed by videos via their DevBytes series. Google’s focus so far has been to partner with existing auto companies, like Hyundai, General Motors, Honda, and Audi via the Open Auto Alliance to produce new vehicles with Android Auto part of the car, with NVIDIA announcing at CES that they will be joining in the fun. What we haven’t seen, so far, is too many third-party companies producing Android-powered head units so that anyone without $30,000 can experience Android in their vehicles, though Kenwood announced one at CES today. Let’s hope that comes sooner rather than later – and with CES upon us, let’s hope that we see some companies step up like Parrot is.
Google’s push into the connected car space is a big deal, though in all fairness, it’s not like they’re the first to the market with such an idea. Prior to Google entering the market for the Connected Car, companies like General Motors already were pioneers in this space with OnStar; Sony Mobile produced head units that connected to your phone via Bluetooth, giving you the ability to interface your phone with your car and listen to music, get driving directions, and more. Apple even put together their own system recently, called Apple Carplay, which compared to Android Auto falls short in this comparison video. Car companies have also been rising to the occasion by integrating mobile data connectivity like LTE in some Chevrolet vehicles.
Not to be left out, many new companies have begun to pop up looking to take advantage of the growing consumer interest in connecting their car to the Internet. Vinli is such a company who has made a device which connects to your car’s ODB-II port (if your car is 1996 or newer it’ll have a compatible port) and works with both Android and iOS via its own SDK. You can even add on modules to provide more options, like mobile data.
The adoption of any new technology requires that companies either rely on heavy marketing to get the word out, or by a grassroots movement where the early adopters control the marketing via word-of-mouth. In the mobile device world, where apps and use cases drive interest and adoption, companies heavily rely on an ecosystem they either jumpstart through in-house developed apps or engaging developers in a community to create apps. When asked about the current connected car space and how he sees its potential, Josh McClung, VP of Sandbox Industries, a firm dedicated to helping large businesses connect with emerging technologies, had this to say:
I see many parallels between the current stage of the connected car and the connected home offerings (e.g. lightbulbs, outlets) over the past several years – device differentiation is limited, which results in a largely commoditized product. My belief is that a few clear winners will emerge with the primary benefit resulting in a large enough community to be attractive to application developers. Many of the connected car startups are currently highlighting their strategy as a developer platform, but that in itself is challenging to create without a captive audience. I believe that the environment will evolve quickly and I’m excited to see it unfold.
XDA holds such a community, and we’re excited to put forward our new Connected Car and Android Auto forums to help start the discussion. We also welcome those companies who are interested in reaching out to engage the community to contact us. With the amount of interest and movement by so many different players, 2015 could very well be the Year of the Connected Car. Use the comments below to let us know your thoughts.