The Future of In-Vehicle Cloud Computing

It is becoming apparent with the recent developments in the vehicle industry that the opportunity in the mobility space is increasing. This year could be the year cars leverage a major platform for apps.

Automakers are pairing with Internet companies, such as BMW’s support for Apple’s iPod Out and the arrival of Nokia’s Terminal Mode that integrates mobiles apps into the car environment. Opportunity for app platform rest as much within the wide margins rising around the car as it does within the car.

A recent report by GigaOM looks at the in-vehicle app landscape. The report includes what each app has to offer and how those apps will fare as more apps are starting to develop in the vehicle industry.

The in-vehicle app environment is taking place in these three concurrent and overlapping phases: in the pocket, in the car and in the cloud.

The “pocket” mode consists of devices that perform an important part in keeping the car head unit up to date and in providing new app services. Mobile phone is being incorporated with car control and car entertainment systems.  Some noted developments in this category include IBM’s support for iPod Out, Nokia’s Terminal Mode, MyFord Touch’s technology and car meter’s linked to GPS that records where users drive.

The “car” category consists of apps made specifically for the vehicle operating system where OEMs can take storage, cost and processing out of the car.  Upcoming features include updated navigation systems through official traffic data, car-to-car communications on the mobile data network, and socializing car data. However, the usability of dedicated interfaces requiring high-end graphic processors remains to be the problem in this category. Automakers are also concerned about the cost involved and the vulnerability of car safety system.

The “cloud” category consists of car apps platform that keeps it accurately up to date. It represents a fully integrated vehicle created to separate front and backseat content areas, navigation and diagnostic apps for the driver.  Broad array of offers includes – map services’ databases of “points of interest,” launching of vehicles with lightweight electronic onboard, apps that monitor diagnostics connecting to car service shop, and infrastructure-to-car services. The future will see front-mounted cameras on car bumpers and cameras in transit vehicles.

In the cloud category, infrastructure is critical – both in bandwidth and data processing, as it requires a broader mobile bandwidth than 3G. Also, one of the challenges is keeping the offered services accurately up to date.

GigaOM’s report also incorporates prominent platforms and suppliers that are currently active in the in-vehicle app space, where at the same time; mobile device makers are refining their system for in-car adoption. It is expected that Autosar will be a global standard for onboard communications and software development.

Vehicle population and car-apps market

Compared to the mobile phone sector which has 1.4 billion annual sales, the auto sector is relatively smaller, having only 70 million annual sales.  China and India are the biggest area in the vehicle industry. However, the UK and the US experienced a decline in total car population. Smartphone owners could reach 2.5 billion by 2015 globally.

From the three car apps modes, a new class of services will also emerge such as Navigation and data, Service apps and search, Entertainment, Productivity, Insurance, and Car console. These will be delivered thru various routes: USB devices, smartphones, call centers, and private-cloud services. These new apps are non-revenue earners and could offer a new way to generate revenue streams.

The market position is shaping up for these leading automakers – Ford, GM, BMW, Toyota, smart, Geely (China) – across the globe. Each automaker has its own distinct platform offering.

Long-term vision for in-vehicle apps

Over the past years, the car as an app platform had been the vision of automakers. However, it brings challenges such as safety issues, the need for broadband infrastructure, and user preferences, to name a few.

The possibility of cars as a part of the user’s social experience, the adoption of multimodal personal transport and the shared ownership culture seems to be the most promising opportunity. This could be the reason why BMW and Peugeot are investing in mobility solutions.

There are short-term opportunities in the pocket segment and long-term opportunities lies in how the concept of mobility can be re-conceived by the consumers and the industry.

By 2015, there is a suggested increase in new social apps that will add mobility and comfort in transit. This would be the age of electric vehicle and the smart grid. The in-vehicle app will be a part of the same infrastructure that powers homes and offices.

Electric vehicles might not be widely used but it is most likely to bring a robust environment for apps, and it will bring a change to the vehicle industry.  Europeans are looking at EVs that by 2020, it will comprise of about 10 to 20 percent of the global fleet. However, EVs poses delay at the local level due to electric infrastructure and the challenge of supply and demand.

Social dynamics seems to be the strongest mobility platform of the future, as both the European and American market are spurred by this. The growth of car sharing, the quick adaption of automakers to consumer electronics, the transition to electric vehicles and the continuous communication of the people’s ideas and needs, serves as the underlying basis for change and innovation.

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