Apple recently unveiled its new CarPlay technology, which allows an iPhone to drive the in-dash display in vehicles from Ferrari, Volvo, Mercedes-Benz and several others coming soon. There are several detailed overviews of the technology, including one on TechRepublic, but it essentially turns the car's head unit into an external display for the iPhone, much in the same way that Apple's AirPlay technology lets an iPhone or iPad drive a television screen. Google and others have similar technologies in the works or in a current product, and they represent two opposing architectures in the battle for connected vehicles.
At stake is what many consider the future of mobile devices, where cars can communicate over high-speed networks and do anything from automatically reporting diagnostic information, scheduling a service appointment, and guiding you to the nearest repair shop, to notifying you about a special at your favorite burger joint and paying for the bacon double-stack via the car itself. The possibilities for entertainment, information exchange, and data that get marketers drooling are endless, especially when many of us spend hours as a captive audience in our vehicles.
A tale of two dashboards
Based on the nearly limitless potential services (and the
corresponding revenue streams) available from connected vehicles, most
manufacturers have been hesitant to relinquish control of the platform and user
interface of their vehicles. This gives the auto manufacturer full control of
their connected vehicle platform, allowing them to choose which vendors can
create applications or offer services; however, it also puts on them the full
responsibility for building and maintaining a highly complex set of
technologies on a massive scale.
Most automakers have struggled to enter what amounts to the consumer electronics business, with drivers who are used to Androids and iPhones becoming disappointed by in-car technologies that are dated and sluggish. Automakers also have encountered the "chicken and egg" problem that's toppled many entrants into the tablet and smartphone market: automakers want lots of rich applications available on their connected vehicle platforms to draw users, but developers don't want to create those rich applications without an existing, large user base.
Making the vehicle a secondary display for a smartphone solves lots of these problems. Apple or Google now "owns" the complex servers and infrastructure required for the in-vehicle experience, manages functionality upgrades, and brings along a significant number of applications. Users gain a familiar interface, and developers can extend their existing applications to connected vehicles. In the case of Apple's CarPlay, developers can enable the technology just like enabling their application for AirPlay, essentially putting their apps in the car with far less additional work versus creating and maintaining a new version of the application for an unfamiliar platform.
The Faustian bargain for the automaker who adopts a technology like CarPlay is that they're now merely a dumb screen, rather than the gatekeepers to an end-to-end set of technologies and services.
The enterprise and the auto
CarPlay in particular represents a great opportunity for enterprises that are already developing applications for the iOS platform. Rather than needing to rewrite an application for an entirely new operating system, existing iOS applications can be extended for CarPlay. If you have in-house apps that might benefit a highly mobile sales force, for example, CarPlay quickly gets you in the car. This also applies to applications your company routinely uses, and the ease of extending applications to the car may be the killer feature for CarPlay technology.
Observing the "battle for the dashboard" is also instructive, even for companies that have no interest in delivering applications or content to a connected vehicle. These technologies are rapidly changing the automobile from a means of conveyance that might offer music and mapping to a fully-connected, intelligent device. This change suddenly has companies that were not even in the same industry competing directly with each other. Automakers are now in the consumer electronics market, and vice versa. Other industries are bound to experience similar shifts, and your quiet little IT shop or company may wake up to find its future riding on the likes of an unlikely bedfellow.
Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent over a decade providing strategy consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Patrick can be reached at email@example.com, and you can follow his blog at www.itbswatch.com. All opinions are his and may not represent those of his employer.