Automakers increasing digital offerings, linking in-dash systems to smartphones and services like traffic monitors are responding to demand, according to a US report which said a recent study by IBM showed buyers would increasingly select new cars based on the gadgetry they contain. Separately, an online survey of about 2,100 people conducted for Johnson Controls (JCI) by Harris Interactive suggested consumers want to use phones and existing apps to safely connect in their vehicles.

In the next eight years, shoppers will focus more on options like live traffic reports and the personalisation of connected services rather than brand names and reliability, according to the Transforming Retail report, cited by the New York Times.

While fuel economy is expected to remain key for many buyers, the emphasis on connected services is creating a digital debate among automakers over how to deliver these services, the paper noted.

JCI's survey found consumers want this process to be simple to use and for it to be convenient to download apps from traditional channels. The supplier, which specialises in interiors and electronics, said it would use the data to influence design and new product development of future infotainment products.

Asked the New York Times: should such in-car systems take an open, flexible approach to connecting with software and services, or should these services be tightly controlled and restricted by the automakers? It’s said to be shaping up as a battle similar to that between Google and Apple in smartphone operating systems.

The automakers’ opinions are about evenly divided, the NYT said.

“About 50% of US auto executives expect that things will become mostly open,” Kalman Gyimesi, author of the six month IBM project told the paper.

Gyimesi said he believed the auto industry was at a tipping point in the technology tug of war which could favour the open approach taken by companies like Ford. It lets outside companies more quickly create new apps and services that can then be used via smartphones, he said.

On the other side are automakers like Mercedes-Benz that prefer to differentiate their systems and maintain customer loyalty by keeping tighter control over what connects to the car.

There’s also the safety issue.

“You don’t want Angry Birds to set off an air bag,” Jake Sigal, chief executive of Livio Radio, told the paper. Livio creates the software that connects cars like the Chevrolet Spark to mobile phones and services like internet music channels [which include brands such as Pandora and iTunes].

Some car companies take the position that by doing the development themselves, they can focus on reliability and safety, Sigal said. But a disadvantage of that approach is that services may not appear in some cars until long after their popularity has waned.

Underpinning these issues is an even more fundamental technical concern from the early days of personal computing: the lack of compatibility.

In general, software and services across different vehicles are not consistent and often require that drivers download multiple apps, particularly in tightly controlled systems. It also means software developers may need to create separate versions for different automakers and car models.

Compatibility is also important to drivers. According to the IBM study, nearly a quarter of buyers consider digital connectivity across models important when it comes to buying multiple vehicles. In other words, traffic reports and personalised streaming music channels should look and work the same in all cars.

In the open versus controlled technology debate, the former usually wins, according to analysts.

“The open approach tends to drive an industry,” Gyimesi told the New York Times.

As evidence, one need only look at smartphone operating systems, the paper added. According to market researcher IDC, Android’s 2012 market share to 31 October was about 68% worldwide while Apple was a distant second at nearly 15%.

Some key findings from the JCI study of over 2,100 US adults:

  • Interest in greater connectivity via one's vehicle is high. 84% of vehicle owners would like to control the features in their vehicle via a touch-screen infotainment system; 83% want to get updates to vehicle infotainment systems delivered wirelessly; 76% would like to connect to the internet using their vehicle as a wi-fi hotspot; 67% would like to download applications directly to their vehicle; and, 61% would like to pay for something using a debit or credit card linked to the infotainment system in their vehicle.
  • Safety is the single most important feature in the selection of a vehicle (75%). The delivery of vehicle infotainment safely will be critical to consumer adoption and consumption. The second tier of important features includes vehicle diagnostics (49%) and navigation (42%).
  • Smartphone apps most associated with a vehicle include: maps/navigation, 52%; news, 45%; and finding locations, 34%.
  • When it comes to downloading smartphone apps to a vehicle via an interactive screen, vehicle owners who use downloaded apps on a weekly basis would prefer traditional channels. 62% have a preference for where they would download an app for their vehicle and, of those with a preference, 60% would prefer downloading from an existing app store (such as App Store for iOS, Amazon Appstore for Android), 38% would prefer a new app store for vehicle specific applications and 37% would prefer the app maker's website (such as Pandora, Google Maps).
  • When it comes to accessing a vehicle app, vehicle owners who use downloaded apps regularly want apps they know and are comfortable with.
  • Two-thirds (64%) want the menu options in their vehicle to be the same as on their smartphone (ie a full list of menu options available).

Participants represented a cross-section of car owners, spanning a variety of ages, incomes, lifestyles, and vehicle segments.

At the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this week, JCI announced it would provide its first production infotainment system which will launch globally in "a 2014 model year vehicle".

Show the press release

Johnson Controls Research Confirms Consumers Want a Connected Car

New study indicates connectivity and safety features top list in consumer preference

LAS VEGAS, Jan. 8, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Vehicle owners(1) responding to a recent online survey conducted for Johnson Controls by Harris Interactive indicate they want to use their phones and existing apps to safely connect in their vehicles. Consumers want this process to besimple to use and for it to be convenient to download apps from traditional channels. Johnson Controls, a leader in automotive interiors and electronics, will utilize the data to influence design and new product development of its future infotainment products.

"Through this research study, we gain important insight into the needs and wants of consumers as they seek to connect seamlessly and intuitively to their vehicles," said Paul Lambert, group vice president and general manager, Electronics, Johnson Controls Electronics & Interiors. "This information is helping us to provide market-leading infotainment solutions that take into account ever-increasing consumer electronics functionality without sacrificing safety."

Some of the key findings from the study of more than 2,100 U.S. adults include:


    --  Interest in greater connectivity via one's vehicle is high. 84% of
        vehicle owners(1) would like to control the features in their vehicle
        via a touch-screen infotainment system; 83% want to get updates to
        vehicle infotainment systems delivered wirelessly; 76% would like to
        connect to the Internet using their vehicle as a Wi-Fi hotspot; 67%
        would like to download applications directly to their vehicle; and, 61%
        would like to pay for something using a debit or credit card linked to
        the infotainment system in their vehicle.(2)
    --  Safety is the single most important feature(3) in the selection of a
        vehicle (75%). The delivery of vehicle infotainment safely will be
        critical to consumer adoption and consumption. The second tier of
        important features includes vehicle diagnostics (49%) and navigation
        (42%).(4)
    --  Smartphone apps most associated with a vehicle include: Maps/navigation
        = 52%; News = 45%; and, finding locations = 34%.
    --  When it comes to downloading smartphone apps to a vehicle via an
        interactive screen, vehicle owners who use downloaded apps on a weekly
        basis would prefer traditional channels. 62% have a preference for where
        they would download an app for their vehicle, and of those with a
        preference, 60% would prefer downloading from an existing app store
        (e.g., App Store for iOS, Amazon Appstore for Android), 38% would prefer
        a new app store for vehicle-specific applications, and 37% would prefer
        the app maker's website (e.g., Pandora, Google Maps).
    --  When it comes to accessing a vehicle app, vehicle owners who use
        downloaded apps regularly want apps they know and are comfortable with.
        Two-thirds (64%) want the menu options in their vehicle to be the same
        as on their smartphone (i.e., a full list of menu options available).
"This market research validates Johnson Controls' infotainment approach.  We deliver the latest technology features that consumers demand with an intuitive Human Machine Interface throughout our development process," said Lambert.

The online survey was conducted December 27-31, 2012 in the United States for Johnson Controls by Harris Interactive among 2,135 adults age 18 and older, of whom: 1,183 own a smartphone; 1,070 use downloaded apps on a weekly basis; and, 1,062 own a smartphone and own/lease a vehicle (i.e., car (small/mid-size/large/luxury), SUV/CUV, pickup, minivan, or hybrid) that they drive on a regular basis. The participants represented a cross-section of car owners, spanning a variety of ages, incomes, lifestyles, and vehicle segments.

The information generated by this study is helping Johnson Controls align its product design and development for future infotainment systems to respond to consumer desires. This week, company officials are announcing at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas that Johnson Controls will provide its first production infotainment system which will launch globally in a 2014 model year vehicle.

Original source: JCI via PR Newswire