CES Proves Carmakers Are Finally Embracing Smartphones, Not Replicating Them

The smartphone revolution caught out several industries. Camera and video camera makers probably didn't see the huge impact the powerful units in consumer pockets would have on sales -- and you'd have to search high and low for anyone selling a Psion style organiser nowadays. While some still cling to the Filofax, it's fair to say we live life through our mobiles now.

It is for this reason I think that carmakers have changed the terminology of the "connected car" to actually mean what it says on the proverbial tin -- a car that is connected; in this case, to the driver or passenger's smartphone. It has surprised me for several years that manufacturer after manufacturer would try to get involved in providing an office assistant of some kind or another. Model after model was also launched with an app or two thrown in which customers could sign up to receive email or stream music through alongside satellite navigation systems that were -- and still occasionally are -- offered as upgrades costing hundreds of pounds when everyone's got Google Maps in their pocket.

So as this year's hype around CES continues to grow, the early announcements surrounding cars we are likely to drive soon -- i.e., not self driving concepts -- are dedicated to getting the most out of the smartphone. Cut-down versions of the Apple and Android operating systems are being flagged up as the next big thing on cars which are starting to allow us drivers to get the most out of our smartphone and the digital subscriptions we already have.

It was only a couple of years ago that I was taken aback by the sheer honesty of a Ford presentation that could be surmised as admitting the car industry works to far too long a lead time to ever keep up with the very latest in technology. Plus, at the same time, people are generally living their lives through smartphones that are so sophisticated, they don't need any new communications technology inside the car. Why try to second guess what consumers will want in a year or two when you can simply allow them to use what they've decided to purchase in the meantime?

The simplest requirement drivers need today is a screen larger than that offered by their smartphone, which they safely glance at next to their dashboard, and a cut-down operating system so everything that can be run through the phone can operate through their car. Oh, and a charging cable that covers all phones would be nice -- they're provided with the cheapest back-up phone batteries, so why on earth can't carmakers include them, or adapters, on each new car?

While there will still be occasional announcements about communications technology that simply replicate what consumers already have, I really do think the carmakers are getting the fact their tech efforts should be spent on driving aids, such as collision warning systems, night vision and self-parking. In fact, BMW is due to show off a system at CES that allows a car to park itself once the driver has got out and press a button on a smartwatch. 

I'd hazard a guess that these are not only there to give gadget-loving drivers a new piece of kit to show off and make their driving experience better but to also give dealers some new technology to mark up the price of a new car. It's going to be much needed when the impending collapse of in-car GPS systems occurs. Just look at any maker's website and you'll see a mid or top of the range car nowadays will almost certainly come with SatNav as standard.

So, the car makers appear to have got the fact that they really are there to make cars and to let us bring our own connectivity and subscriptions in to the car with us. All they need to do is empower that connectivity so we can use our apps and subscription rather than be forced to replicate them in the car. 

Impressively, the other more futuristic announcement around self-driving cars are also being led by carmakers. They've undoubtedly seen what happened to brands whose products have been subsumed by ever-powerful smartphones and realised if they don't lead the technology charge to electric or hydrogen-powered cars that drive themselves, Google and Tesla will do it for them.

As long as they keep the advances in technology there, and leave the in-car experience to a large screen we can run our existing comms through, everyone will be happy.


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