The Conundrum of the Connected Car

My mother recently got a new (to her) car. She came over to my house, and I got in to admire the heated seats and Bluetooth. It took us a while to figure out that her not-quite-smart phone wasn't fully compatible with the Bluetooth calling system. She kept telling it to call me, and it kept calling someone named Trina. Meanwhile, my inbox was filling up with announcements about connected cars, Google's driverless wonder, and its ambition to take on Uber.

I admit to being a skeptic about connected cars. I have a 7-year-old Subaru with relatively few luxuries. The AUX jack--and a second power outlet--is about as good as it gets in my car. Ever since TV screens started popping up in minivans, I've been worried about where this was going. For a while, I had a Prius with a touchscreen in the dashboard that was constantly updating me about my gas mileage-and it was hard not to stare at it while driving. A year or so ago, I was driving my friend's station wagon, using the backup camera to get out of my own driveway, and I nearly crashed into another car. Long story short, I like to keep it simple inside my car's cabin.

But as Business Insider's John Greenough points out, "The connected car is equipped with internet connections and software that allow people to stream music, look up movie times, be alerted of traffic and weather conditions, and even power driving-assistance services such as self-parking." BI Intelligence estimates that by 2020, 75% of new cars will be capable of connecting to the internet. According to Greenough's article, BI Intelligence also says that "of the 220 million total connected cars on the road globally in 2020, we estimate consumers will activate connected services in only 88 million of these vehicles." I would be among the other 132 million people.

Furthermore, according to Harris Poll Interactive, a survey of U.S. car owners with cars that are a 2009 model year or newer reveals that 44% have never even heard of connected cars. Only 14% of respondents have heard of connected cars and are familiar with what they do. Even so, Greenough estimates that revenues from connected car services will top $152 billion by 2020. (I think my inbox is sending me mixed messages about this whole connected car issue.)

Despite my hesitancy to accept this particular technology, I understand the appeal-at least somewhat. For instance, it would have saved me a lot of time and energy if some of my old cars could have connected to the internet to tell the manufacturer why weird lights were flashing at me from the dashboard. Europe has already mandated that all new cars must be equipped with eCall-which can alert authorities in an emergency-by this year. This, for many, will be invaluable.

Connected cars may be on the road to ubiquity, but there are still some hurdles-such as picking mobile service providers. Forbes says, "Chrysler, for example, is partnering with Sprint Nextel to connect cars like the Dodge Viper ... General Motors selected AT&T as its mobile partner." But what happens if your smartphone and your car are powered by different wireless networks? Does that mean two bills? (Or maybe you can get that friend who used to unlock your iPhone to also unlock your new Cadillac.)

But whether or not consumers are ready to fully embrace the connected car, content creators are going to have to. Automobiles are just one more channel in the Internet of Things that content creators will be contending with during the next few years. It's likely that anyone buying a new car in the near future will end up with some level of connectivity in his cockpit and will use some of those services-even if it's only during a complimentary period immediately after purchase. It will be up to you to convince those 132 million people-who would not otherwise pay to turn on these services-that your content is worth paying for.

I don't think this will be easy to do. We all know that the modern American is never far from her smartphone-and that smartphone already does most of the things connected cars are promising. So why would I pay extra just so my car can keep up? I wouldn't.

However, what people will pay for is something truly novel, convenient, and value-packed. Your challenge is figuring out what that is. 

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