In the past 12 months, car manufacturers have turned a corner on the “connected car,” reaching out to Silicon Valley to finally bring the web to the front-seat. In search of differentiation, automotive brands like Ford, GM, and Toyota have announced new initiatives and partnership programs aimed at luring developers, and creating easy ways for users to consume digital content in the confines of the car and interact in location-based ways with the world around them.
One big player is Nokia. With its device business offloaded to Microsoft, the Finnish tech giant has turned its focus to its services business, headlined by its location and commerce platform, HERE. The service provides location data and analytics services for a wide range of markets, from fleet logistics and geospatial analytics to mobile app development and ad targeting. And one market the company is betting on big is its connected car product: HERE Auto.
Street Fight caught up with Nokia’s VP of connected car, Floris van de Klashorst, to discuss the opportunity the auto market presents for hyperlocal, the challenges facing developers, the outlook for Apple’s new mirroring service, and the business case for autos and local tech.
We’ve seen automotive companies start to really form a coherent strategies around the connected car recently. What’s changed over the last two or three years, and what’s the attitude right now amongst automakers?
Well, I think the car manufacturers have been struggling to meet consumers’ expectations in the last years. There are probably three trends which are worthwhile to mention. I would say the fast rise of tablets, smartphones, applications, et cetera, has made the consumer much more aware of certain choices that they can make from real-time information that they have for cloud-based services that are available on all screens. In the past, when people stepped into their car, they were thrown back a decade in terms of what the systems could do. They didn’t want it anymore, so I think car manufacturers were competing with consumer electronic devices that people brought into the cars. They had a challenge selling the embedded systems.
[Car makers] had to change course, and had to start looking at bringing back the value of the embedded system. That’s why you see a lot of these cars getting connected. The connectivity makes it possible to make sure that the data is always fresh, make sure that there’s real-time traffic data, make sure that things that you do on the web can be synchronized to the car so you don’t have to type your destination twice. That’s the big change that you see: car manufacturers are embracing solutions that have a more consumer-driven design while maintaining the automotive-grade quality in map and navigation.
Nokia’s HERE platform plays across a number of markets. What’s unique about the car in thinking about developing a location product?
I think the car is definitely unique. Unlike other mediums, it’s still a very private environment for many people, but it has a very specific purpose. It has a purpose to bring you from A to B, or from point A to point B to point C. Even if you take it out for just a drive on a Sunday afternoon, that is the purpose.
So, if you look at the car in itself and what makes it unique, one of the big things is that the car has a huge number of internal sensors. We all know the about GPS, but there’s all kinds of route angles, mechanical sensors as well as all kinds of data about the outdoor and indoor temperatures etc. It can even go as far as starting to measure biometrical data from drivers based on temperature of the body, you name it. There’s a whole plethora of sensory information available that you could, if you analyzed that, turn into useful services.
A big part of Nokia’s work with car manufacturers centers around providing the location tech to support new technologies like self-driving cars and reflexive headlights. Where does advertising fit into this business?
It very much depends on the business. For instance, in the enterprise market, customers will typically build tools for their own fleets to support their own business processes, so advertisement has no place in that. If you look at automotive, however, it’s a little bit different.
Of course, there has been advertisement in cars, like audio ads, for years. However, I would say that the automotive environment is an environment that is more restricted in terms of driver distraction requirements and guidelines, so we don’t want to create a situation which is unsafe. The use of advertisement like popups or icons or maps is not the right way to do it. … We make our products much more personal, much more local and much more contextual.
With our HERE product, we do a lot of learning. Where do you drive on Monday morning? Where do you drive Monday afternoon or on Thursday or Wednesday? If you combine those kinds of learnings, we can proactively start to show you Shell or Mobil or whatever brand on the route towards your work, or on the route towards wherever you go, knowing that your fuel level is low.
So, it’s pro-active promotions that have use, and which are sensible for the user in the context of where he is, where he’s driving, et cetera. If you plan it well, I think there’s opportunities. But I think you have to sort of implement it really in a contextual and safe fashion.
When you look at the dashboard, do you see it as a product — built by one company — or a platform, capable of supporting a number of third-parties?
We know that car manufacturers want to differentiate and consumers want a more personal experience. That means that consumers buying a car want to personalize the experience in the car with certain brands that they have. Whether it’s music, in Pandora, whether it’s a hotel finder, in Yelp, or something else. So, the second product that we launched is more focused on the platform role of that. It’s our HERE Auto SDK. The SDK will allow developers to build apps using our map data and other components of the SDK to create car-safe applications.
The liability for car makers is the big problem here. That’s why importing apps from the mobile app to the in-car display won’t work because they’re not designed to be car-safe — they could be distracting and cost lives and the car manufacturer will be liable for that. The SDK provides a platform and development environment for partners — developers or car manufacturers — to build applications that adhere to the driver distraction guidelines and can be allowed or certified by car manufacturers as such.
In June, Apple announced new functionality which allows users to mirror data and content from the iPhone onto infotainment systems in the cars of participating automakers. Talk a bit about the approach, and why it will or will not catch on.
You have to sort of look at this in two ways. One way is offering a solution for the entry segment for the people that do not want or do not buy an embedded system. People take their own device — a tablet or a phone — and use that as a navigation solution, for instance. A few years ago, Nokia established the Car Connectivity Consortium to set a standard for all the system suppliers and all the handset manufacturers to agree on one mirroring approach. Everyone joined except Apple because Apple, of course, always has to have proprietary approach.
The iPhone mirroring technique is by definition an Apple play only. It’s made only for Apple products. It’s not an ecosystem play. What you see, because of the market share of Apple, is that most car manufacturers are now implementing MirrorLink and iPhone support. That’s better than 10 different protocols, there’s only two protocols.
But again, I come back to the pointed liability. As soon as a car manufacturer allows a phone to be integrated or connected and then applications are shown on the display and controlled through the car they are part of the ecosystem, they become liable for experience. So, car manufacturers will want to audit or control which applications are being shown and what applications will be allowed.
So I’m a local publisher or developer. How much do I need to focus on the car?
If you have a local or travel angle, and you have a brand that resonates in your geography, I think you can find pull from a car manufacturer to be included in the mix. The car manufacturers are looking for differentiation. If I remove the logo from the steering wheel and I put you in a German car you will have a hard time figuring out whether it’s a BMW, Audi or Mercedes. The last point of differentiation, you could argue, is in this infotainment system. I think if a car manufacturer can differentiate themselves by offering some choice. But it’s likely to be a license deal and not so much a consumer play for these developers.
These publishers need to look at the car in terms of offering an experience that goes to every screen. For instance, it’s very dangerous to use a Foursquare app on your phone while you’re driving. But if you have heavy users that like to be alerted about friends in the environment and there is a nice integrated experience, you will have more users. You will have more constant users, your usage will go up, your engagement will go up, the MPS of the application will go up. I think the point is, that these brands should not look at automotive as a business case on its own. They need to look at automotive as an expansion of the usage of the application in a place that is very relevant.
Steven Jacobs is Street Fight’s deputy editor.