The emerging in-vehicle app landscape

Ford's newest Sync technology

Gigaom pro has a new report on the market for in-vehicle apps that looks at the current landscape for major market app adoption.  While the app market is nascent for now the coming shift will change the way consumers and auto makers think about mobile data and consumer habits. The report notes that, “The car is still most people’s second-biggest purchase; there are 250 million of them on American roads alone. But opportunity for app businesses lies as much within the wide margins rising around the car — car sharing, battery issues, multimodal transport, etc. — as it does within the car.”

The report finds that there are three concurent and overlapping modes of app characteristics:

  • in the pocket, where the mobile phone is gradually being integrated with car control and car entertainment systems
  • in the car, which consists of apps made specifically for the vehicle operating system
  • in the cloud, a mode that consists of car apps updatable on the fly

Nokia's Terminal Mode

The report goes on to define each mode:

The pocket

“The “pocket” mode consists of devices brought to the car — your phone, media player or metering device. The challenge here is how these devices can be parceled off from the mobile network to provide safe, distraction-free entertainment and information applications inside the vehicle.

Pocket devices already play a vital role in keeping the car head unit (the central information and entertainment dashboard) up to date and constantly refreshable, and in providing new services under an owner’s existing (cellular) data plan.

The car

The “car” category can be seen as a blurred line between pocket-based apps and a fully fledged cloud model where OEMs can take storage, processing and cost out of the car and bring new business models into it.

These car-to-intelligent infrastructure concepts are now starting to look moribund as the mobile network, GPS satellite system and apps offer a cheaper infrastructure than roadside sensors and car-to-road communications. Indeed, the dream of intelligent, crash-free and congestion-free highways sets the framework for OEM thinking, and most car makers continue to work on their Telematics programs.

The cloud

The “cloud” category represents a fully integrated vehicle that’s designed to create segregated front and backseat content areas, navigation and diagnostic apps for the driver and a wider range of attention-centric apps and content to the rear seat and front passenger.

By the time the “cloud” mode reaches widespread adoption, major automakers will already have an apps platform with a broad array of offers differentiated from the capabilities brought into the car through the mobile phone.

App revenue projects for new and after market cars

The report goes on to identify several app categories to keep an eye on in the new app ecosystem.

  • Navigation and data
  • Service apps and search
  • From car to cloud
  • Entertainment
  • Productivity
  • Insurance
  • Parking and location-awareness services
  • Car console

One clear opportunity for auto makers is to use the coming flux of electronic vehicles to re-engineer the concept of the driving expereince around in-vehicle apps. “Alongside the gradually expanding market for electric vehicle diagnostics, battery- charging services and scheduling, expect apps that facilitate real-time interaction around ride sharing,    , social-reputation systems for neighborhood car rental, the mash up of metropolitan transit data, more-sophisticated route planning, new ways for people to meet that avoid transport snarls, more-adaptive transit systems, cooperative driving and multimodal transport.”

One interesting approach is by Nokia and its called Terminal Mode (PDF).  Given Nokia’s market strength right now that name may imply something its creators didn’t intend.  The Terminal Mode platform looks like this:

Nokia and CE4A (Consumer Electronics for Automotive) working group have released Nokia’s Terminal Mode technology specification as a proposed industry standard for the integration of mobile applications into the car environment.

Nokia concludes:

  • CE4A ( and Nokia want to set a de-facto industry standard for the integration of mobile applications into the car environment
  • Solution allows mobile device and car manufacturers to choose their approach of integration, e.g. all apps or specific apps and the depth of car HMI integration
  • Terminal Mode approach opens the door to new use cases and business cases
  • Terminal Mode Specification Draft is finalized and going through approval in CE4A
  • Publication will start in May 2010 • Standard is open to the automotive and mobile device industry

Another interesting player is QNX, who is using the ngConnect platform:

“QNX is a major player in ngConnect, a 4G/LTE group led by Alcatel-Lucent, and is owned by Research in Motion. Its Neutrino Real Time OS RTOS powers the new RIM PlayBook and is present in over 200 car models and about 20 million cars. QNX also powers GM’s OnStar.
The QNX    is already up and running with the ngConnect car. , QNX’s HMI developer community, is expected to open to the wider
community in 2011. Google, Chumbi, Pandora, Atlantic Records and TuneWiki are already porting content to the platform.”

About Daniel Davenport

Daniel is a digital media executive with internet and broadcast experience. Daniel is currently the executive strategy director at THINK Interactive.

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