How connectivity is revolutionizing everything

Car: Drive the next always-on gadget

by Katie Fehrenbacher

Drivers already rely on cell phones, navigation devices and other connected gadgets to stream music, get directions and check on traffic. Now analysts say that within five years, car owners will expect every car to have a data connection built-in to make these tasks — and more — a seamless (and less distracting) part of the driving experience.

GPS devices originally paved the way for connectivity in the car in the mid 2000s, followed by the automakers’ attempts to brand their own communications services like GM’s OnStar and Ford’s Sync. On the other side of the spectrum are super-connected electric cars, like Tesla’s Model S (it has a 17-inch screen inside!) and the Nissan LEAF. These electric vehicles will one day enable utilities to manage the cars’ charging on the grid, essentially making the cars’ fuel source (electricity) another point of connection. (We’ll have the Model S beta at our GigaOM RoadMap!)

There’s also an eco aspect to the connected car. The proliferation of broadband and mobile allowed car sharing companies Zipcar and Getaround to create on-the-go reservation systems, and create iPhone apps to unlock and lock car doors. GPS has a quiet green side, too, since taking the most direct route to a location can cut down significantly on fuel consumption. Just ask FedEx, which used GPS and software for route optimization to reduce their fuel costs.

For startups, the car can actually be a difficult ecosystem to crack. There are few established standards for connectivity in the car and the automakers and cell phone companies dominate the space. Dash Navigation showed some initial promise a few years ago, raising $71 million from investors. But after stalled sales, it was sold to RIM for $8.3 million.

In the next few years, connectivity within the car will become more standardized, and the car could become the next platform for innovation. A next generation of startups will use car data and connectivity to create new vehicle applications and services, most of which we probably haven’t even dreamed up yet.