Wednesday, July 28, 2010

R.I.P. Unlimited Data - Now what?

North America, well specifically the US, was one of the only regions in which you could find unlimited data plans, but now wireless carriers, starting with AT&T, have begun to match the rest of the world by offering tiered / usage based data plans. This has interesting implications for automotive OEMs looking to build the next "connected" car.

To date you had 3 main ways to provide connectivity into the vehicle: Embedd a cellular radio, use data over a voice channel (think Ford's connected services over Airbiquity’s “modem”), or use some creative interaction with data provided by a consumer's handset. I will avoid the word "tethering" because, in fact, most of the carriers used to block formal tethering due to the unlimited rate plans. So this 3rd method I mention involved creative interactions between an application on the users handset and the vehicle. An example of this is PandoraLink.

PandoraLink in essence uses a command and control interface from a vehicle to "speak" to a Pandora application running on a handset and then stream that audio back into the car. This is an excellent approach in the world of unlimited data because you weren't tethering and additionally, as an OEM, you didn't have to absorb (or pass along) the added BOM cost of an embedded radio nor the added usage fees.

Ok so now tiered data is available and restrictions on tethering go away (although tethering becomes quite costly). For services such as Pandora, eliminating unlimited data *may* have an effect, but for some emerging video and gaming services (ex: OnLive) the new approach by carriers will effectively prohibit them from launching in a mobile environment. Different groups argue about the consumption of bandwidth by streaming audio solutions and if a tiered data plan will have any effect.

So looking into my crystal ball what do I think will happen? Well in the past carriers tried to build everything themselves, apps, services, content solutions, etc. Now controlling bandwidth gives them a new negotiating tool. Imagine a popular video or internet radio application. Now a carrier doesn’t have to build a competitive solution to gain incremental revenue. Instead they can cut deals with popular services for revenue shares and then offer packages that remove the data cap for those services. For instance a carrier could cut a deal with a popular internet radio or video service for a cut of revenue and then offer a "OnLive" or “Youtube” data package. 2 gigs of data and unlimited OnLive gaming or Youtube streaming.

So what is the impact for automotive?  Well first of all, I think this removes the risk of the unknown as to what will happen when carriers remove unlimited data. The time is now. There are now predictable terms to build connectivity models for automotive around. Tethering will now be a real solution, it will just be up to the OEMs to predict if tethering will be an acceptable option given the added cost to consumers. I also think, now that models are established, there is risk for OEMs and programs that are trying to work around formal tethering through serial connections to content and services. I think this solution will be eventually be disrupted by the carriers, or worse put the OEM in a position that the carriers demand money for accessing this functionality.
If I was an OEM I would start business modeling around the potential revenue that could be attributed to local search, vehicle bus data, etc. and try to monetize it in such a way to support a “kindle” type of plan in a vehicle (either for tethering or an embedded radio).

There is money to be made inside the vehicle its just time to quantify and leverage it.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Linkedin post too windy - Infotainment 2015 and beyond

Recently I took part in a linkedin thread on the future of Infotainment (see original thread here: As I started to respond I realized that I had too much information for a simple post on a Linkedin group. So I took my response to my blog. Here it is:

(snip) Ok, so from my perspective the future of car infotainment is going to combine many of the posts in this thread (I will provide a summary then go into it a bit). For sure closer device connectivity will happen. Features that OEMs either find interesting business models around, are table stakes or that they want to ensure a consistent experience across all vehicle models and devices, will likely move to be built in. Then you will see a focus on cloud / internet based applications and services (with some partition with local content for non-connected times). Many of the systems will combine all three (pocket, cloud, car) applications, content and services.  How about a deeper dive into each of these areas?

The “Pocket”

In the short term, devices will address the impedance mismatch between the OEM vs Consumer device development cycles. You will first see this with standardized interfaces (like Bluetooth - SPP, MAP, etc.) but see much more device, and even application interaction with the vehicle. For example, we are seeing TONS of use cases for Bluetooth SPP for command, control and content sharing between vehicles and devices. In some cases Tier 1s and OEMs are relying on things like SLIP connectivity over SPP. I think you will see carriers block this functionality (IMHO) so be careful here. The next step will be application and potentially display sharing. You see this with Nokia Terminal Mode and Apple's new IPod Out. What Apple did right and Nokia will have to address is how to handle application / content policy management to block video / display sharing of content deemed not fit while driving (distraction, etc.). Again, in this way a new nav application, or other feature / content, could be either created by an OEM for a popular device and pushed to the vehicle, (perhaps even downloaded from a devices application store) or the OEM could enable other application vendors to target the car through the device.

The Car

Device connectivity and application sharing will be one method of enhancing (and being enhanced by) the vehicle’s interior environment, but it won’t be the only way. Enabling devices in an appealing, while safe, way in a vehicle will still necessitate quite a bit of electronics in the vehicle: Large displays, high end graphics processors, high end CPUs, Operating Systems, Speech recognition software, etc. All of this will still be in the vehicle even if much of the end users application experiences are enabled through the use of “pocket applications”. OEMs have a vested interest in a consistent end user experience for certain applications across all devices, carriers and vehicle models. Some of these applications over time will shift from being brought into the vehicle to being a feature too important to leave out of the vehicle or to need to rely on you always carrying your (associated) device.

As a related aside, my wife is driving our vehicle right now to the zoo. She just called me at work because she couldn’t remember the correct freeway exit. I started to say use the off-board navigation, but that services is paired to my phone (with me) not hers. . . what a pain.

So back on topic: Another thing to highlight is that new business models will emerge that OEMs will be remiss to not consider. Take for instance the sheer data an OEM’s telematics systems can collect. There are already rumors in the industry about trades being negotiated between Google and OEMs for vehicle data. There might be instances where enabling local search, maps, navigation, the display in a car, etc. might have financial benefits for the OEM or providing opt in “probe data / crowd sourcing” could benefit a driver in some way. In many cases implementing key features or even updating electronics and software will potentially be paid for by these new business models. Also, many costs currently absorbed into the vehicles BOM will be able to be offset by revenue associated with new business models. For example, Blackberry traffic was announced last year. This traffic application will be provided for free and will provide both real-time and historical traffic information. Traffic is something that has a significant cost in OEM systems today.

The “Cloud”

Audi MMI with Google Earth
Lastly, as ubiquitous connectivity comes to the vehicle more content and services will be able to shift to the “cloud” and the car will have the potential to be an application platform in its own right. Apple’s acquisition of Lala, Webkit and HTML 5 adoption, Google’s server based Voice Search, Microsoft’s Office and Azure, OnLive’s gaming experience . . . Just little proof points that consumer and business technologies are moving to embrace cloud based connectivity. You will see this have a dramatic impact in automotive. Costs will be offset by:

  •   removing large storage: used for map data, speech vocabulary, multimedia, . . .,
  •  license costs for speech rec, map and navigation data and algorithms, points of interest . . .
In addition to cost savings new revenue potentials will be revealed.  Some potential examples:
  • Geofenced advertising: “50% off pizza at Joes next exit”; “xyz, one of your favorite Pandora seed bands is playing a surprise show at the park up ahead”
  • Traffic brought to you by _________
  • Download the latest horn tone, or electric vehicle engine sound for $x
The real key in achieving the status as an application platform capable of driving an application and development community specifically targeting automotive will be rolling platform enabling electronics in all tiers of vehicles, enabling an open and consistent application environment and addressing the safety aspect of adding applications to a vehicle. OEMs under appreciate what potential they have for providing a large enough volume of devices to create an ideal platform for developers to target. Lets provide a bit of perspective. Apple has sold around 60 million iphones, since launch in 2007. I know my wife has owned 3 so not all of those phones are still in active use. Toyota ships in the neighborhood of 9 million cars per year. So in the same 3 year period you could have a very close volume of “active” “platforms” to target. Yes I am making some big leaps in this conclusion, but the point to make is that if a strategy is adopted to make an easy, open, rich, safe platform that can be inexpensive enough (or business models offset the cost) to launch into even low end vehicles cars themselves could have a rich development community of unique applications. And as more apps embrace the “cloud” HTML 5, Flash / AIR and other internet enabled technologies will touch the driver.

So what will the future of Infotainment be:  All of the above . . . likely at the same time. (/snip)