You may be used to using your phone as a search engine, and you've seen ideas for years about your TV serving as a search engine, but have you thought about your car as a search engine?
The idea had occurred to me before. Fittingly, the last section of my final column of 2008 noted one trend to watch this year is that "your car engine's your search engine." I wrote, "Then there's vehicle telematics -- anyone who's searched for a restaurant, attraction, or drugstore via a GPS device on the road will appreciate how valuable that can be."
Ford Motor Company has an even more ambitious vision for the future of in-car search engines. At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week, I met a number of executives from Ford at Social Media Club's Ultimate Blogger Dinner, including CEO Alan Mulally. I seized the chance to record video interviews with Ford's President of the Americas Mark Fields and Director of Connected Services Doug VanDagens. The full interviews, including text and video, will soon run on my blog, but I've excerpted segments with VanDagens that address how consumers search from their cars.
David Berkowitz: Do you want to share what you're doing?
Doug VanDagens: I'm the director of connected services, so I'm responsible for connecting our vehicles with all the services off-board -- satellite radio, an Internet connection, HD radio, things along those lines. So we've got a whole host of awesome services, some that we've just announced back in December.
What we're announcing here at the show is an ability to connect to the Internet through a normal voice plan. So all you need is your phone, and we can take Sync through Bluetooth, connect to your phone, and connect out to Tellme, which is a best-in-class voice portal, and Microsoft now owns those assets. From there we can direct you to a number of Internet data sources. We can send the GPS information from the vehicle, we can send diagnostic information over your voice plan, and then we have traffic, directions, business search, and information, all Internet-based.
DB: So have you done some initial testing to see how people are already using this -- or is this really just rolling off the shelves now?
DV: It's just rolling off... It will be available in the spring, but the coolest thing about it is, it's going to be available on every new vehicle we're going to make in 2009, from the Focus to the high-end cars.
You'll have access to Internet information. You can personalize it. If you want news you can go in and say, "I want technology news," "I want business news." It'll be read to you. You can get sports, news, weather. Later this year we're going to introduce movies and stock prices.
You can get navigation information, so you can go out and say, "Find me the closest Starbucks," and it will go out, based on your location, and find the closest Starbucks to you, analyze the traffic conditions, tell you how to get there the fastest way, and download the directions to your car. The call will end, and now you'll get turn-by-turn directions. It will say, "Turn right at 200 yards," "Turn right now," it will take you anywhere you want to go. It will do business search -- you can get the phone number. And all of this is free for three years.
DB: Does this work in conjunction with GPS or more as a replacement?
DV: We use GPS in the vehicles. Starting in January, all of our new vehicles will have GPS. So we send the location from the car so we know where you are. You can say things like, "Search nearby," and they'll find anything that you want nearby. You can do a business search, you can do it by category, you can do it by actual business name, by proximity. So you can say, "Find me an Italian restaurant."
DB: What is Ford getting out of this by making it a free service?
DV: We're making our customers happy. We're offering something to them that nobody else is offering. It's free navigation, free business search, free directions, free information, and all you need is your cell phone.
DB: Have you been taking this for a test drive yourself?
DV: We are fast to the market. We just got the first version of this over Christmas. So we took it out and we've been running with it and it works great.
DB: The car was one of the few places people couldn't readily search before, and search is so ingrained in people's lives. How do you think your new service is playing into that fact? How might this change consumer behavior?
DV: I think the first thing it does is, it makes it safer to drive your vehicle. Right now when people want to find a place to go or use their phone or an MP3 player, they're doing it anyway. They're looking down and dialing. This makes your car safer to use because if you need to find a place to go, it will automatically do it through voice. Our priority is voice. You can just talk to it, keep your hands on the wheel, your eyes on the road, and you get the information you need. That's the first thing it'll do.
The second thing it'll do is it will make access to information that you need fun. You can get the latest technology news. You can personalize your sports, you can personalize the weather. So it makes the driving experience fun and safe.