Think you’re locked into a mobile OS now? Wait until it runs your car

Apple’s going to reveal more about the Apple Watch on March 9, but CEO Tim Cook has already started dropping hints during a trip to Europe. The latest tidbit comes from The Telegraph: The Apple Watch will be able to start a car.

Which cars? That’s a good question that the Telegraph article and Cook didn’t address. It’s possible that Apple doesn’t know yet, and it hinges on deals with automakers who may be generally resistant to Apple or its rivals taking over in-car computing.

But for people who are considering purchasing new cars today, Apple getting into the key fob game could end up having a significant effect on your resale value. After all, if your car’s ignition only works with iOS — or has no smartphone integration at all — it’s going to be significantly less attractive to Android users who are considering buying your car secondhand. And if your mobile hardware not only powers features on your dashboard interface like mapping or music but basic automotive functions like starting the car then it only becomes more important for the vehicle’s valuation going forward.

A recent report from Glass’s — the British Kelley Blue Book — concurred. “If you are a car manufacturer that has chosen to go with Android, can you still sell your car to a committed Apple smartphone user?” head of valuations Rupert Pontin wrote. “Backing the wrong horse could see their models become not just less attractive to a growing group of buyers but also see their residual values hit.”

The two big players at the moment for in-car software from Silicon Valley are Google, with Android Auto, and [company]Apple[/company], with CarPlay, both of which will roll out on new cars this year. Neither company appears to be going anywhere, but it was possible to say something like that about BlackBerry in 2007 when my family purchased its most recent car.

Your car choice could end up having an even more powerful lock-in effect on your mobile platform choice than, say, an app store. After all, even if you’re a huge app user, you don’t usually spend thousands of dollars on apps that you expect to keep for years. And you can’t sell your old apps when you want to upgrade to new ones.

To be clear: It’s entirely possible — almost certain — than some of the entertainment systems rolling out this year will support both Android Auto and CarPlay. Car makers and chip companies like Nvidia have no incentive to lock drivers in to a brand they don’t make. But anyone who follows mobile app development knows that often new features and bug fixes don’t come to both platforms at the same time — and sometimes never make it to the third and fourth place platforms. For now, CarPlay and Android Auto manage maps and music in your car, but when features are as eventually as critical as keyless fob-free ignition — or one day, autopilot — you probably will want to have the phone or smartwatch that updates come to first.

It’s already possible to start a car with an iPhone. Hyundai, which is supporting both CarPlay and Android Auto, mused about NFC ignition two years ago. A firmware update pushed to the pricey electric Tesla Model S back in September enabled the feature, but the changelog, highlighting the issue, said that the feature was coming to Android “in a few weeks.” Unofficial developers have already started working on Tesla apps for Apple Watch. (There are also unofficial Android Wear apps.)

What’s clear is that as car development cycles inch closer to the more rapid and iterative software and hardware development processes favored by Silicon Valley firms, it’s going to wreak havoc on secondhand values. The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that some electric cars — except for Teslas — have seen their resale values tumble.

Of course, if you believe the rumors, Apple might solve this problem for iPhone and future Apple Watch users when it releases the car it’s supposedly working on. But for anyone purchasing a new vehicle before 2020, that doesn’t help very much.

After Panasonic takeover, Aupeo’s Personal Radio goes car-focused

When Panasonic Automotive bought the internet radio service Aupeo in 2013, it was clear that the Berlin-based streamer was going to head off in a different direction from rivals such as Pandora.

And now we know how. In the coming days, Aupeo Personal Radio will become Personal Radio by Aupeo — this may sound like a trivial rebranding effort, but it marks the birth of a new app, focused heavily on the in-car experience, that’s going to try to be the only audio app that drivers need.

First, function: Personal Radio will do what it says on the tin, allowing drivers to set up highly personalized streams that present audio content in a timely manner. So for example, whereas drivers usually have to wait until fixed times to hear the traffic report, Personal Radio will instead time these reports according to when the journey’s taking place.

Over time, the stream will also gain weather, news and sports reports, according to the driver’s wishes as pre-set through the app — here, Aupeo’s teaming up with content providers such as [company]CBS[/company] News and AccuWeather.

Of course, music and talk radio will probably form the bulk of the experience. On that front, Personal Radio will still offer its genre-based mixes that learn from the user’s demonstrated tastes, and the user will also still be able to mix in tracks and podcasts that are stored on her mobile device. The app can figure out when to use what – if the car is roaming outside national borders, or if the connection is too patchy to allow live music streaming (buffering creates copyright issues), then it will switch to stored tracks.

App competing with app platforms

Personal Radio is, shall we say, interestingly positioned. On the one hand, it’s an app that will run on [company]Google[/company]’s Android Auto and [company]Apple[/company]’s CarPlay. Users can download it for free and pay $4.99 each month, and they can also shell out $9.99 to activate the car mode.

Personal Radio by Aupeo, in car mode

Personal Radio by Aupeo, in car mode

However, that car mode, with its minimalist UI, is also a reference design for car manufacturers. Panasonic Automotive provides audio technology for car-makers from [company]Chevrolet[/company] and [company]Acura[/company] to [company]Toyota[/company] and [company]Volkswagen[/company], and Personal Radio is ripe for re-skinning and integration into such manufacturers’ proprietary on-dashboard platforms – which are to some extent competing with those of Apple and Google.

Aupeo chief Holger Weiss said in an interview that bringing rows of app icons onto the dashboard, as the phone OS vendors are doing, doesn’t solve any problems — though he did suggest that the familiarity of the format would at least help educate users about what’s possible. “On the other side, we’re positioning this as a dedicated audio platform, enabling car-makers to create their own experiences,” he said.

“Car-makers have to make a bet on how far they should rely on third parties for ecosystem and how far to create their own one. We’re giving car-makers a very strong tool to keep control,” Weiss added. It’s not hard to see why the manufacturers want to keep their options open – they’re operating on very long production cycles, the connected car industry is still very young, and no-one really knows how it’s going to shake out yet.

Incidentally, Weiss also said that, although the app will rely on Aupeo’s longstanding internet radio services for streaming, there are “considerations to open the platform to third parties.” That also makes sense – if Personal Radio is going to fulfil its mission of being the only audio app drivers need, it’s probably going to have to take in more sources that drivers might ask for.

Personal Radio by Aupeo

Personal Radio by Aupeo

JustPark app finds a spot on BMW dashboards

The British app is the first of its kind to be embedded into a car manufacturer’s dashboard displays, starting in the U.K. but soon available in other English-speaking countries, too.