It’s an article of faith in the automotive industry that customers want to bring their increasingly sophisticated smartphones into their vehicles and use them as easily and effectively as possible without having to take their eyes off the road or their hands off the wheel for more than a brief moment. From the customer’s perspective, the more freedom and flexibility they have to use smartphone “apps,” the better.
Automakers that excel at enabling mobile connectivity will presumably be rewarded with increased sales and greater brand loyalty, presuming they select the right apps, make them simultaneously secure and easily accessible, and keep development costs under control. That is more easily said than done, which may be why automakers’ lists of apps approved for in-vehicle use are relatively short. Ford SYNC, for example, currently supports Pandora, Stitcher, OpenBeak, and iHeartRadio. Toyota’s Entune system offers Pandora, iHeartRadio, Bing, MovieTickets.com, and OpenTable, in addition to various other location-based services.
Along with hands-free calling and iPhone/MP3 connectivity, those apps appear to be enough for now. Internet radio is a logical extension of what is already in the car. Location-based and/or vehicle-specific apps (navigation, traffic, weather, search, door lock/unlock, etc.) enhance the driving experience. Games, photo/video and productivity apps are okay as long as a vehicle is parked.
The big draw may be social media, and the key to accessibility is text-to-speech technology. Nuance recently announced that its automotive voice technologies power BMW ConnectedDrive. Text-to-speech enables the readout of emails, text messages, Facebook and Twitter status updates, and RSS news feeds. Text-to-speech also reads appointments aloud in owners’ iPhone Calendar as part of the free BMW Connected app that lets drivers also listen to streaming Internet radio.
“Mobile consumers crave constant contact, and often find that they’re immediately disconnected as soon as they enter their car,” said Nuance vice president Arnd Weil. “Drivers are demanding in-car systems and mobile apps that not only keep them connected, but also minimize manual and visual distractions.” Connected text-to-speech technologies give drivers more options and more connectivity from anywhere.