The 'Battle for the Connected Car' Begins in Earnest

For at least a decade analysts and car makers have been discussing, debating and forecasting telematics. Until this point, however, telematics has mostly been about in-dash navigation. More recently, with Microsoft Sync and similar inititives, we've seen a move to integrate speech and smartphone-like app experiences into in-dash "infotainment" systems.

Apple, Microsoft and now Google are trying to expand their reach into the "connected car." This year's CES has featured a number of auto-related announcements. Among them -- and arguably the most significant -- is the Google-led "Open Automotive Alliance" (OAA). With the OAA Google seeks to bring Android into the car in a deep way: 

The OAA is aimed at accelerating auto innovation with an approach that offers openness, customization and scale, key tenets that have already made Android a familiar part of millions of people's lives. This open development model and common platform will allow automakers to more easily bring cutting-edge technology to their drivers, and create new opportunities for developers to deliver powerful experiences for drivers and passengers in a safe and scalable way.

One can imagine that if the initiative expands and succeeds it will boost Android generally and become a new channel for Google services (i.e., Gmail, Google Maps, Music, Google Play) and advertising.

Early members of the OAA, which mirrors the earlier Google-led Open Handset Alliance, include Audi, GM, Hyundai and NVIDIA. Microsoft currently works with Ford and Toyota via its Sync system. And in 2012 Apple announced partnerships to bring Siri into the car with a number of car makers, including BMW, GM, Mercedes, Audi, Toyota and Honda, among a few others.

It's not clear to me from a technical standpoint whether auto OEMs can built multiple operating system compatibility into their vehicles or whether they'll have to bet on one. However there's much at stake in this "battle for the dash." 

The operating systems that "win the car" will see a boost all around. For example, if Android beats Apple and Microsoft in the car it will help Android more broadly in the market, or vice-versa. As in-dash systems become richer and more complete, people will want their devices and apps to be compatible and accessible in the car.

The "battle for the car" also mirrors the so-called "battle for the living room" among these tech titans. It's really a battle of operating systems and ecosystems across multiple platforms.