x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

iCars with smarter gadgets unveiled

Car makers are teaming up with smartphone manufacturers to tempt consumers into buying their vehicles by offering extended in-car digital services.

Car makers want to go a step further than allowing a driver to interact with the car via an iPhone. Adrian Moser / Bloomberg News
Car makers want to go a step further than allowing a driver to interact with the car via an iPhone. Adrian Moser / Bloomberg News

Car makers are teaming up with smartphone manufacturers to tempt consumers into buying their vehicles by offering extended in-car digital services.

The German car maker Volkswagen, for example, has unveiled a new variation of its famous Beetle car range in the form of the iBeetle, which was shown at the 2013 Shanghai auto show last week.

This will have an iPhone docking station and a specially developed smartphone application with the strange name of "Volkswagen Car Net The Beetle" to enable drivers to access a range of car-related and a new mobile social networking service.

"This is not just about connecting your smartphone and playing something on the radio," says the Volkswagen spokesman, Christian Buhlmann.

He adds: "What is special about this is that it is a two-way connection enabling the phone screen to display a G-Meter [for measuring transverse acceleration], oil and coolant temperature gauges for the engine, a chronometer and a compass."

But the car makers are not merely content in using the iPhone to interact with the car, they hope that drivers will also begin to interact with one another while on the road.

"We are also enabling social networking between [iBeetle] drivers, who cannot only communicate with each other about their journeys and eating places along the way, but also share experiences and even agree to meet up with each other," says Mr Buhlmann.

Drivers of Mini cars, economy vehicles made by the British Motor Corporation (BMC) are also able to take advantage of a Mini Motoring app. The app works on the iPhone and on Android smartphones. This not only allows drivers to share their favourite roads with one another but also enables them to acquire "virtual" points.

Many gaming websites now not only offer "virtual" points but also "virtual" products. Although the products are "virtual" in the sense that they are only digital images of real products such as tractors or tanks. But, even if the products are virtual, the money the gaming sites charge for "virtual" products is not. The car makers will be able to offer virtual rewards in order to attract customers.

Inevitably, the unveiling of the new iBeetle has also sparked rumours that Apple and Volkswagen were getting into bed to create a new "smart" car. But there may be limits to the level of cooperation the auto and IT industries are mutually prepared to undertake.

The Silicon Valley IT analyst Rob Enderle said: "Car companies have been building in links to generic phones and iPhone links for some time."

But he adds: "However, those doing the specific links were burned when Apple changed the plug on their phones."

A key reason why car makers and smartphone makers do not gel as closely as some market watchers expect is that they have very different production cycles.

For example, Mr Enderle said: "Car companies typically take from three to five years to change audio systems in cars."

For this reason, he believes that many car makers have learnt from this and are sticking With other open wireless technologies such as the low-radius network technology Bluetooth.

With IT companies such as Google now reported to be developing the blueprints for their own smart vehicles, car makers and IT companies may find themselves in increasing competition with one another. Traditional car makers may not, for instance, relish competing with the new self-drive smart cars being planned by companies such as Google.

Just as they have resisted competition from electric car makers by making hybrid vehicles that run on petrol and electricity, they are likely to offer some digital improvements of their own while keeping control of their market.

By adding features such as an iPhone and interactive in-car software, car makers such as Volkswagen hope to seduce customers away from 21st-century smart vehicles.

However, the war between the car makers and the computer makers has only just begun.

"Phones are becoming more tightly integrated into automobiles overall and we are really at only the beginning of this trend," Mr Endele said.

Ot may be that drivers will not wish to upgrade their cars as frequently as they do their smartphones. As long as car makers have such close alliances with specific smartphone manufacturers such as Apple they are in danger of losing customers who do wish to be locked into the same smartphone.

"I generally think it is a bad idea to link to any one phone because you can alienate those that don't use it as well as the other phone companies," says Mr Enderle.

He adds: "If they aren't following closely enough, [smartphone industry] standards can change on a dime leaving the new car's system as obsolete."

Who knows? The car makers may soon decide to take the battle to the phone makers and start making their own smartphones to give away free with each new car.

 

business@thenational.ae