A brief history on the trajectory of apps in automobiles

apps in carsI have done some very crude and preliminary research into the current state of apps and automobiles. However to understand the current framework, it is useful to explore the history of internet in cars to reveal how we have arrived at our recent fascination with connecting smartphones and automobiles.

The following is a preliminary look at a few manufacturers and their technological implementation of devices, protocols and applications.

2003: German Ministry of Education research into FleetNET – a type of ad hoc network between cars and objects,

2006: Academics (Ernst et al.) call for IPv6 to be the protocol used for internet in automobiles,

2008: BMW uses Autonet (dongle in the cigarette lighter or installed router) to connect and mobilise their iDrive in-dash internet browser; Autonet adds media storage ad becomes Delphi/Autonet Mobile System; UConnect system from Chrysler makes and appearance,

2009: Toyota Prius has a consortium of businesses to develop and implement the ng (Next Generation) Connect system, which backs onto the 3G network – it also employs LTE (long term evolution) to act as a wireless hotspot,

2010: Ford integrates API system Sync which utilises app technologies (OpenBeak, Pandora and Stitcher), while GM uses OnStar which is a built in car phone service using sensory technology like iRadar and CARbonga,

2011: Ford Sync into 10 European models – a move away form embedded technology to enable users to connect their devices, subscription based at $395 plus some features requiring $60; GM offers MyLink: using apps to access Pandora, Stitcher and eventually Facebook, email etc.,

2012: BMW iDrive updates its software to 4.x and significantly improves its rendering and mapping capabilities, interesting to see the disappearance of surfing the net in this update,

2013: Emphasis on smartphone integration; iOS and Android are producing apps that connect to the car; apps are using GPS and drawing information from communities of users to provide real time information; aCar to interface with the car’s operating systems (fuel consumption, mileage etc); CarLocator; GasBudy; iOnRoad – camera to detect accidents; iWrecked for when you have an accident; 3rd party componentry is quite distinct in this era to connect older cars with smartphones; average cost is around $5.99 per app (needs further investigation); Audi is working with Inrix Inc for parking data; BMW working with Parkopedia Ltd. for info on parking spaces (user communities); GM using OnStar RemoteLinkMobile app to start car and lock/unlock car; manufacturers still unclear about whether to connect to other cars or internet; Telematics is the burgeoning field from these types of discussions; Hyundai has Blue Link mobile services; BMW release “Last Mile” app.


What this leads me to believe is that there are four distinct eras in mobile internet within cars which has directed car manufacturers to abandon their desire to turn cars into mobile hot spots. The first sees the push come from academia (and no doubt the policy sector) to establish a suitable mobile automobile internet technology and protocol. The second sees car manufacturers implement communication systems that, awkwardly, brings the internet to the automobile. The third has manufacturers abandoning their push to make the car the internet source, and concentrate on app installation. While the final era demonstrates an integration moment where the manufactures concentration appears to be BYOD (bring your own device) to the automobile, where the apps are preinstalled to integrate with the car.

More research is required to fill a few of the obvious gaps here, but what is clear is there are four moments that are ‘driven’ by the political economy approach that are fascinating to investigate. Why did certain manufacturers partner with particular technological groups and not others? At what point did the manufacturers decide to abandon one form of tech for another? Will apps on smartphones be the future or will we see a reversion to include connectivity in the automobile?

The final observation is there seems to be three types of automobile apps emerging: safety apps (crash prevention, diagnostics, etc), general apps (radio, media, radars, navigation, objects etc), and insurance apps relevant to incidents (speed, camera, cause).