Jelli Noise

The “smart” car from today is the feature phone from 2005

BY Jelli ON June 18, 2013 IN Jelli News

On average, Americans spend more than 18 hours per week in their cars, a mind-boggling 10.7% of their life.

If you make your living in consumer internet, where time spent is a key success metric, your response to that data should be: that is a hell lot of eyeballs – or better yet, ear-balls – and how can I own as much of that time as possible?

In-car apps will be predominantly audio-based until self-driving cars become mass market. Consequently the established internet music services are predestined to enter the car experience, introducing in-dash applications that compete with broadcast radio and amongst themselves.

Beyond features and content, the services behind those apps are competing for the car with an established method: distribution through partnerships.

That follows some common logic: “A service has a higher chance of consumer adoption when it is part of the out-of-the-box experience and integrated in the dashboard (hardware or software).”

I can’t help but see the analogy to the early days in mobile consumer services. It is logical to believe the connected car will go through a similar, exciting development as mobile once did.

Back in 2005 to 2008 I was working at Yahoo! and we built what we believed was the best mobile internet experience. In those days Nokia phones were called smartphones, you needed to press the key ‘2’ three times to type one letter ‘C’, and we tried to conquer the market through strategic integration partnerships with mobile carriers and pre-installing our app via manufacturers.

From a software developer perspective, the connected phone from 2005 (and following years) was quite similar to the connected car from 2013: software development required expert knowledge and cooperation with the manufacturer; user experience was full of compromises; connectivity was limited; distribution required strategic partnership with other ecosystem players, and lead times were long.

And then three things happened. Any of these events changed the landscape, but together they started what we today know as the mobile ecosystem:

1. A beautiful, frictionless experience emerges

iOS and iPhone launches mid 2007, amazes consumers and inspires software developers. Remember Apple launched with 2G connectivity only and no ability to install any 3rd party software.

2. Decent connectivity (for the masses)

3G and 4G changes everything. To be fair, Apple is a late-mover. Other phone manufacturers like Nokia, Sony Ericsson and Motorola embraced 3G years before Apple. But it did not help them in the same way because they lacked the other critical factor: quality user experience. It was a breakthrough for Apple and adoption exploded with the iPhone 3g/3gs.

3. Choice and software distribution

The App Store is important for the consumer. Instead of being locked into the phone manufacturer’s choice for apps, the consumer can browse and choose from a wide, ever changing selection. This makes a phone a truly personal device, and it has shaped our habits as consumers.

Even more important, the App Store is crucial for developers. Mobile apps can become hits without support from the manufacturer and without the requirement of strategic partnerships. By enabling the developers to distribute and monetize their apps, iOS became a true platform.

Android became a platform in the same way, just later.

The connected car

Looking at the car, none of these events have happened, yet. They may happen in a different order and involve different players from the industry. But I believe fundamentally that the car will become a frictionless environment for beautiful apps. Cars will come standard with high speed connections and a platform will emerge that allows software distribution and consumer choice. At that time, the rules of the game will change and a robust app ecosystem will emerge.

And with Americans spending 10.7% of their lifetime in the car, it’s too important for this change not to happen.

Stephen Dougherty