How Apps Are Changing the Auto Industry

Read Time: 5 min

When apps first became “a thing,” (remember when “there’s an app for that” was one of the original memes?), the initial belief was that apps would be mobile-only for some time. In only about 7-10 years, apps have entered virtually every part of our lives -- and now, with in-vehicle apps, they’re a big part of our cars (and one of the world’s biggest industries) as well.

 

In-vehicle apps: Actually, let’s start with ride-sharing


One of the first ideas to embrace around how apps and mobile are impacting the automobile industry is that they’ve put traditional automaking executives on notice.
Specifically, ride-sharing. As Chevrolet CMO Tim Mahoney notes, he couldn’t wait to get a car when he was growing up, because it meant access to all his friends without the need for his parents. It's a very different landscape today.

 

  • First: the Internet as a whole, and the massive prevalence of mobile, has made it much easier to engage with your friends in real-time. (That’s what Snapchat is to a lot of teens right now.)

 

  • Second: you don’t necessarily need a car for two reasons. More people are living in urban areas than ever before, and ride-sharing has become prevalent. To ensure their unit sales-driven business models still work, automakers have been forced to find new value-add approaches because of these societal shifts.

 

In-vehicle apps: Summon


Summon from Tesla is a cool party trick right now, but represents a lot about the future of driving. Right now, you can use the in-app “Summon” feature to make your Tesla roll forward or backward via your SmartWatch or the Tesla app. It’s ideal for tight parking spaces, and not much else (presently). The Summon feature also doesn’t recognize traffic lights, so using it within cities is not the best idea. Ultimately, though, there’s talk that you could be in Los Angeles and summon your car from New York. While it would take a while, it would eventually reach you. Autopilot has been a big deal for Tesla, and the early iterations of the Summon feature are a part of that.

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 Remember how Harry Potter could handily summon all kinds of objects with the ‘Accio’ spell? The Summon app is kind of like that. But for Teslas.

 

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In-vehicle apps: Unlocking and locking


BMW’s Connected North America app function has in-app locking and unlocking (the latter was recently added). This means (essentially) you could leave your keys at home or in another totally random location and still access your car if you had your phone. The irony of this, though, is that Connected North America lacks…

 

In-vehicle apps: Remote engine stop/start


… so with a BMW, you could unlock your car in-app, but you can’t start the engine that way. It is possible with several other auto apps, however. myChevrolet and Hyundai’s systems do allow you to start your car from the app, although a four-digit PIN is required in both cases.

 

In-vehicle apps: WiFi hotspots

 

General Motors was one of the first automakers to work this into their cars, although others have followed suit. Now the inexpensive car market has several Wi-Fi-enabled options, including the Chevy Cruze and the Buick Verano.

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In-vehicle wifi is a game-changer for road trips. 

 

In-vehicle apps: Apple CarPlay and Android Auto

 

We’ve reached the point where Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are a common feature in cars of any price point. A few weeks before Thanksgiving, I went to a Honda dealership. My dad was coming, and my idea was to research some cars and then go back with him as a bonding exercise. Being a sucker, I ended up buying that day, deferring the bonding dream. (I actually leased.) I got a 2016 CR-V. One of the major things different sales guys kept telling me was that the ‘16 only integrated with iPhones, but the ‘17 might integrate with Android. I have an iPhone, so I was able to defer another dream: the sales team’s desire for me to own a newer car. My new leased car integrates with a host of things on my iPhone, including Pandora, but can take calls from my mom. Infotainment! If you don’t spring for a car with Android Auto, there are still ways to hack that system and appear like you have it.

Use while driving: GasBuddy


This one allows you to see, and then price, gas stations along your route or according to zip code. In the U.S., if you submit gas prices yourself, you can win money! This is a nice step-up from typing “gas station” into Google Maps as you’re doing 70 MPH on a highway, because that search result can take you 14 miles off the exit sometimes. GasBuddy gives you a clear indication of what’s near and what’s on the route you’re trying to follow.

 

This one allows you to see, and then price, gas stations along your route or according to zip code. In the U.S., if you submit gas prices yourself, you can win money! This is a nice step-up from typing “gas station” into Google Maps as you’re doing 70 MPH on a highway, because that search result can take you 14 miles off the exit sometimes. GasBuddy gives you a clear indication of what’s near and what’s on the route you’re trying to follow.

 

Next: Making it easier for apps to sync with vehicle systems

 

Because of traffic fatalities tied to distracted drivers, the U.S. is seeking legislation whereby any mobile app has to be tied to an in-vehicle infotainment system. Basically, as a driver, you can’t use your phone or tablet in the car. It would be linked up to your car when you enter, and you can interact with features on the dashboard system, not on the phone itself. If the legislation passes, this will see a second growth period for in-vehicle apps. Automakers, potentially reluctant to open up to third-party developers, might create very comprehensive in-vehicle app ecosystems within their own cars as a nod towards distracted driver accidents. Ever met someone who claims to “live out of their car?” That might become more and more a reality (not literally) as cars become huge, humming versions of the phone in your pocket.

 

What in-car apps have changed driving for you?

 

 

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