In some ways the automobile is the ultimate "mobile device." And pundits, analysts and prognosticators have been anticipating the rise of "telematics" for 20 years. Finally the "connected car" has finally arrived in earnest.
While services like GM's OnStar and several others, including Microsoft Sync and proprietary in-dash navigation systems, have offered a promising glimpse into the future of in-car services, Apple and Google will drive, so to speak, the mainstreaming of these experiences. Apple today formally announced "CarPlay."
Previewed last year at the Apple developer WWDC event, the service is rolling out this week in vehicles from Ferrari, Mercedes and Volvo at the Geneva International Motor Show. A wide range of other automakers are also signed on: Chrysler, BMW, Ford, GM, Honda/Acura, Hyundai, Jaguar Land Rover, Kia, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Toyota and a few others.
The CarPlay experience is currently built around calls, messaging, music and maps. Siri is also at the center of CarPlay, offering eyes-free control over apps.
While most iOS apps won't be available through CarPlay it will become a new platform that will undoubtedly see modified versions of existing iOS apps and totally new apps specifically designed for the in-car experience.
Users will need an iOS 7 iPhone to participate. More importantly, they'll also need a new car. Thus it will take several years for CarPlay to take hold as a mainstream phenomenon and reach millions of drivers.
Google has a competing "connected car" initiative modeled on its highly successful Android, "Open Handset Alliance." Called the “Open Automotive Alliance,” it's currently supported by Audi, GM, Honda and Hyundai. Others will probably join the list as Google offers incentives to automakers and pushes for greater reach.
The in-car market now becomes like the living room -- another battleground in the war of mobile ecosystems.
Microsoft, which was first of the big internet competitors to market with Sync, is at a disadvantage because of the relatively limited adoption of its mobile devices. The company will now be compelled to step up its investment in and development of Sync, as well as its lobbying of auto OEMs.
These competing efforts are good news for consumers and app developers and bad news for terrestrial radio, which has so far escaped the kinds of major disruption that other traditional media, save TV, have experienced.