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Car wars: Apple and Google vie for driver's seat in connected-car market

Apple has head start in forging alliances with automakers, but Google is trying to close the gap

By , Network World
January 06, 2014 03:32 PM ET

Network World - Google today announced the formation of the Open Automotive Alliance, a coalition of automakers working to adapt the Android OS for in-car connectivity. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because it’s a variation of the Open Handset Alliance, which Google formed in 2007 alongside a more than a dozen other tech companies to develop open standards for mobile devices, which led to Android's eventual dominance of the mobile OS market.

The similarities go further than that. The Open Handset Alliance was established in early November 2007, about 11 months after Steve Jobs famously introduced the first iPhone at the Macworld Convention in January 2007. Similarly, the announcement of the Open Automotive Alliance comes roughly eight months after Apple announced that it was working with a handful of auto manufacturers on an initiative currently known as “iOS In The Car.” It seems once again Android is making its move, at least officially, months after Apple, and has set the stage for another showdown in a massive, untapped market.

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In the Open Automotive Alliance, Android counts Audi, GM, Honda, Hyundai and NVIDIA as allies. Apple, meanwhile, claims about 20 car manufacturers have shown interest in the iOS In The Car program, including all three of the manufacturers that make up the Open Automotive Alliance.

Having gotten the early start, Apple’s initiative already has some momentum. Select Honda and Acura models already offer Siri Eyes Free integration, which uses the cars’ voice-command capabilities to access iPhone apps. Honda has also released two iOS apps aimed at bridging the gap between the smartphone and its cars’ touchscreen consoles.

With the sudden competition from Google, 2014 is shaping up to be the year the two reigning mobile titans prepare to compete in the automobile market. However, although it may seem like a completely open market, research suggests it could just become an extension of the smartphone market.

Sheila Brennan, program manager for IDC Manufacturing Insights' Connected Vehicle Strategies research, says the firm recently conducted a survey of 1,000 consumers, which found that three-quarters of respondents would prefer to use their current mobile devices to access in-car services. In fact, consumers wouldn’t leave their phones behind if they could – 60% of respondents said they would prefer their existing devices to connect to their cars, whereas less than 19% of respondents said they would prefer services to come directly from the vehicle without mobile device integration

"According to our study, most consumers find it vital to access the phone in the vehicle but also want to maintain their ‘digital identity’ by connecting their current device to the vehicle," Brennan says. "Therefore, automakers that have a strategy that allows consumers to access their own devices service as well as any unique embedded services that come with the vehicle will gain an advantage in the connected vehicle market.”

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