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“Yes, but will it work with my smartphone?”

Performance Communications Author Image Performance Communications | March 20, 2014

Car dealers for the mainstream automotive brands, you’re going to be hearing a lot more of this in the near-future. Well, that’s if the buyer hasn’t done their homework and worked it out for themselves, or they don’t know their Android from their iOS.

That’s right, the days of vehicle manufacturers developing their own in-car infotainment operating systems are almost over. Apple has finally dealt the hand we all knew was coming as they revealed their new CarPlay Operating System at the Geneva Motor Show. Apple is now going head-to-head with other proprietary systems such as the CCC’s MirrorLink

Apple ‘developed’ the technology with Ferrari, Mercedes and Volvo and is already claiming 13 more manufacturers are planning to integrate the system in the future.

The fruity ones claim it’s the ‘best iPhone experience on four wheels’ and perhaps they’re right. I’m a huge fan of the clean and simple aesthetic of Apple’s mobile iOS and never understood why new cars always seemed to get it so wrong in making their systems as intuitive and easy to use.

And, on top of that, manufacturer ‘own brand’ systems present a lack of consistency. Every vehicle requires a different combination of button presses or knob twists to do the same thing, some of which take a lot of concentration, an unsafe distraction to drivers – I’m looking at you BMW iDrive!

[quote align=”right” color=”#999999″]Smartphones have more processing power than the average computer did just a few years ago[/quote]

There’s another, more recent development that’s making this shift a sensible one. The smartphones in most of our pockets – have more processing power than the average computer did just a few years ago. Music, radio, satnav, email, etc. are all there in those nicely-designed little apps. The only issue is using them safely whilst behind the wheel.

Now that problem is solved – Much as your computer plugs into a monitor, so mirroring smartphone content onto the in-car touchscreen will put that mobile operating system and suite of apps you know so well at your fingertips.

How will this affect our automotive buying habits?

Quite a lot, if a survey by Engadget is anything to go by. In an article about the latest iOS update, Engadget asked their readers if they would choose their car based on phone OS compatibility.

[quote align=”left” color=”#999999″]72% would factor phone OS into their decision-making[/quote]

The results were surprising and telling: 72% would factor phone OS into their decision-making. Granted, this survey was carried out on a website dedicated to gadgets and technology, so I’m sure this survey is slightly biased, but even applying a 20% margin of error, that’s still half of buyers voting with their smartphone.

With 70% market share, Android dominates Apple’s 30%. So for a manufacturer to produce vehicles that are compatible with only one OS could have a massive impact on sales.

If we assume this will never happen, because manufacturers will bridge the divide and offer solutions to both operating systems – maybe even throwing Windows Mobile a bone into the bargain – let’s assume that customers can select their compatible system at point of sale.

Dealership opportunity or cost?

Whether it’s a factory fit or an aftermarket installation – potentially cutting into dealer profitability or necessitating an increasing in price of the vehicle – either way, when that car comes back from a typical three-year lease, how easy is it going to be to sell on? Do you rip the system out and re-fit to suit the new owner? Or try and find a compatible customer? For private sellers and smaller dealerships this will be an even bigger challenge.

What if the customer changes phones halfway through their ownership of the car? If they’re foolhardy enough to switch from one OS to another, do they shoulder that cost and go back to their dealer for a new system? That’s an expensive add-on to a 2-3 year phone contract. Maybe best not getting into that today.

So where does this leave our car dealers?

[quote align=”right” color=”#999999″]Car brands have become involved in the war of the smartphones[/quote]
The good news is that intelligent, user friendly, feature-rich, in-car infotainment is finally here. The bad news is that by handing their car’s touchscreen over to the mobile giants, car brands have themselves become involved in the war of the smartphones. It’s a struggle that might end up with lost customers, decreased dealer profitability and impacted residual values.

Still, at least we can safely check in on Facebook as we drive around the M25 now.


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