NOVI (WWJ) — A few years ago I met a nationally renowned tech reporter, and after I told him where I was from, he was incredulous: “You’re a tech writer in DETROIT? What can you possibly write about THERE?”
Well, I sure wish I could have taken this Silicon Valley snob around the 13th annual Telematics Detroit conference this week at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi.
If he’d walked with me Thursday, he’d have seen software from Detroit-based Compuware Corp. that is creating individualized automotive instrument panels that you control with your smartphone, so that the features and information displayed as you drive is as individual as your preferences for the driver’s seat. (Compuware, by the way, has about 350 people working on automotive applications.)
He’d have seen a Ferndale company, Livio, that’s developing amazing apps to bring free offers for entertainment features into the vehicle, like a six-month trial of a video, music or map service.
He’d have seen a Palo Alto, Calif. company with an automotive office in Rochester, TuneIn, that’s developing a huge database of radio station data — streams, logos, schedules, and programming and personality information — and offering that to car audio makers over Internet access from smartphones.
In all, he’d have seen 2,000 conference-goers and 100 vendors in the largest automotive telematics conference in history, all talking about how to achieve — and exceed — Bill Gates’s once-audacious stated goal of making the car just one more place on the network.
The conference comes at an interesting juncture for the industry. Telematics solutions have never been so widely available and openly embraced by OEMs, yet the magic recipe for how to package and present telematics in a format that consumers view as a must-have remains elusive. Day One’s keynotes and expert panels expounded upon this friction.
“Everyone agrees that, yes, we have to do something about the connected vehicle, but in regards to what to do about it, there’s not a lot of clarity,” said Thilo Koslowski, vice president for automotive vehicle information and communicatio technology at Gartner, in Wednesday’s opening keynote. “That’s what needs to change in 2013 and 2014.” Koslowski floated some different possibilities: standardization, consolidation, increased collaboration and partnership.
This is a decidedly different challenge than what the industry faced in years prior. Even just a year or two ago, the conversation at TU Detroit was all about getting OEMs to notice, let alone embrace, all the exciting telematics solutions that were on display.
Now, most of those same OEMs have acknowledged the inevitability of connectivity and engaged telematics in one form or another. The question is, How do they really make this work?
By realizing that they as carmakers “are not the center of the universe,” said David Miller, chief scientific officer at the Covisint secure collaboration subsidiary of Compuware.
“This whole idea of what’s a the center, it’s not the connected vehicle, it’s the connected owner and connected driver,” Miller said. “This idea that there’s going to be an ecosystem that’s unique to the car, I don’t think is going to fly. The vehicle becomes another connected piece of infrastructure in the owner’s connected life.”
Imagine, for instance, if when you bought a new smartphone, you had spend hours re-installing all of the dozens of apps you’d put on it, and the money you paid for apps was now wasted. Nope. The old stuff flows seamlessly from the old iPhone to the new. “Well, cars are going to have to do that,” Miller said. “And that will become a stickiness factor. Someone will ask you, ‘Why don’t you look at a Ford?’ And you’ll say, ‘Because my apps won’t work on a Ford.'”
TuneIn, founded in 2002, has taken off in recent years after giving up on its original business of recording broadcast programs for time-shifted listening on PC to building that extensive, curated database of radio station information.
With TuneIn, you can download a free app and use it to listen to more than 70,000 radio stations, searching by location or genre — even a particular band name or song title. It also includes Internet-only radio stations.
TuneIn was at Telematics Detroit to try to convince more automakers and suppliers to include TuneIn in their car radios. That way, you can keep right on listening to, say, WWJ Newsradio 950 even after you drive out of its braodcast area — the radio will shift seamlessly to the WWJ Internet stream.
TuneIn streamed a billion hours of radio in just the first four months of 2013, with 237 million listening sessions in March alone. Its technology is now in 200 products. It will be part of many General Motors and Ford cars by the end of this year.
This article includes material from a press release by Andrew Tolve, a regular contributor to Telematics Update magazine.