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The “connected car” a persistent topic at RAIN Summit Orlando

BY BRAD HILL
Marketplace demand is growing for digital interactivity in the car. This trend has longer legs in the navigation/traffic category, but the headlines now are turning to the infotainment section of automobile control, driven largely by the penetration (if not saturation) of smartphones and the streaming-audio apps that live on them.

The changing configurations of “car radio” touched down several times, in several sessions of yesterday’s RAIN Summit Orlando, including Entercom CEO David Field’s keynote address, a research presentation from GroupM Next (“The Internet Radio Marketplace”) (see more Summit coverage here), the rapid-fire Pecha Kucha dazzler from Harman’s Toby Trevarthen, and the “Race to the Dashboard” panel which provided a topical deep dive on the topic.

Toby Trevarthan set the table by declaring that 2013 was “ground zero” for development of connected car solutions. Of course, many ad hoc solution have been underway, cobbled together by users from one direction, the car companies from the other direction, and the aftermarket sitting between them. One of the most important questions in this space is whether a standardized infotainment platform is possible in the car, and if so, when. And how. And whether all stakeholders agree on its desirability. In other words, the big question mark is as fragmented as the present-day solutions.

The “Race to the Dashboard” session feature perspectives from Ford (Scott Burnell), Pioneer’s aftermarket products (Ted Cardenas), Pandora (Geoff Snyder), TuneIn (Kevin Straley), and Slacker (Steve Cotter). Ford’s Burnell articulated Ford’s plug-and-play dashboard philosophy, represented by the company AppLink functionality built into many popular streaming apps. The solution transfers control of a music-streaming app, for example, from the smartphone to the more accessible and safely-accessed dashboard.

Safety is a persistent issue, not an easily solved one, dependent as it is on state laws that form a regulatory patchwork sanctioning when and how phones can be used in the car. (More fragmentation.) Initiatives are underway, though, in the product development of app code from both the providers and the car companies — e.g., blacking out the phone when control is transferred to the dash.

One of the most powerful built-in advantages of broadcast car radio is its intuitive, time-tested, push-button ease. Ideally, users want access to a big PLAY button in the car that picks up the station/stream/programming where the driver left off. Furthermore, also ideally, a standardized experience with similar essentials across all car types and models. After a day of circling around this topic, that holy grail of unification seems a long way off, as car builders, mobile service providers, streaming music companies, and the aftermarket innovators each pursues its individual path to stakeholding a piece of the digitally connected car of the future.

Brad Hill

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