Apple has tripled the number of stores accepting Pay in 5 months

Apple Pay is accepted by 700,000 retailer locations in the U.S., and the iPhone-embedded payment service now loads cards from 2,500 card issuing banks, CEO Tim Cook revealed at the kick off of Apple’s Spring Forward Event on Monday.

That’s pretty astonishing growth considering Apple was accepted at 220,000 retailers at its launch in October, meaning retail chains and independent businesses have been either upgrading their checkout gear to accept the near-field communications (NFC) taps used by Apple’s iPhone contactless payment technology or they’ve turned on NFC capabilities in their existing terminals.

A growing list of retailers accept Apple Pay, Apple revealed at its Spring Forward event.

A growing list of retailers accept Apple Pay, Apple revealed at its Spring Forward event.

At the event, Cook flashed a slide on screen that showed many of the retail chains newly on board with Apple Pay. There were carriers like AT&T and T-Mobile, airlines and hotels JetBlue and Marriott and many, many new stores.

The number of partner banks quintupled from the 500 deals Apple had in place at launch, which is significant because it means consumers don’t have to apply for specific debit or credit cards to use Apple Pay. Consumers can load any card — or at least the vast majority of cards — they already have in their billfolds into the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. Not having the backing of the banks has been a hindrance to other mobile wallets like Google Wallet and Isis/Softcard at launch, but Apple recently claimed that more than 90 percent of all credit and debit transactions could technically be supported on Apple Pay.

Apple is clearly having success embedding its service into retail stores, but it gave an update on its effort to embed itself into vehicles. CarPlay now has the backing of all of the world’s major automakers. Though we have yet to see a CarPlay-enabled vehicle, this likely means that CarPlay will eventually become an option in most newer cars with fancy infotainment systems.

Senator Markey: Our connected cars are insecure and leaking data

As our cars gain more means to reach and connect to our smartphones, the cloud and the internet, they’re also creating more pathways to infiltrate our cars’ data and possibly providing a way for hackers to take control of our vehicles, according to a new report compiled by U.S. Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.).

Markey, a member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, sent letters to 19 automakers asking about the vulnerabilities of their vehicles to hackers, the security measures in place to protect customers from attacks and the data the automakers themselves collected through these connectivity channels. All of the major automakers responded (the three that didn’t were [company]Lamborghini[/company], [company]Aston Martin[/company] and – oddly enough – [company]Tesla[/company]), but Markey wasn’t exactly consoled by the responses.

U.S. Senator Ed Markey

U.S. Senator Ed Markey

All automakers told Markey’s office that they produced cars with some form of wireless connectivity, whether Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or a direct cellular link. But when questioned about if and how these “wireless points of entry” were being exploited by hackers and what protections were in place against such exploits, their responses were all over the map.

Several automakers just ignored some of the questions. Most of those who did respond said they unaware of or didn’t have data on any hacking attempts on their vehicles (though one automaker described non-malicious attempts by car owners trying to reprogram their own engines). As for preventative measures, only half of the companies provided specific examples of security technologies and testing, and only two responded that they had the means to identify and react to an intrusion in any meaningful way in real-time.

One manufacturer said it could remotely put the car in a “fail-safe” mode that limited how it could be operated, while another said it could remotely slow the car down and immobilize a compromised vehicle. I would take a look at the report for yourself if you get a chance. While Markey didn’t call out specific automakers responses, he clearly identifies the companies that didn’t respond to specific questions.

Markey car report

Markey’s staff also found that there was another way for hackers to get data from a car without getting anywhere near your vehicle’s radios: the cloud. While many car manufacturers collect vast amounts of information through their telematics services, that data is often collected by partners and stored in third-party data centers, but hardly any of them detailed how that data was secured.

We’re still in the early days of the connected car, so the public isn’t exactly clamoring over hacked vehicles today. That could explain many of the automakers responses: they may not have data on car computer attacks because they are either exceedingly rare or non-existent. But as Markey’s report makes abundantly clear, that doesn’t mean a hack won’t occur, and if it does the consequences could be catastrophic. This isn’t just your computer going haywire or your identity getting stolen. If a hacker gets into your drive computer, he can gain control over your vehicle, even if you’re in it.

Automakers make a point of saying that they keep the various networks of their cars separate for this very reason: The network that remotely unlocks your doors or blares the Beyonce from your iPhone through your cars’ speakers isn’t the same network that controls the engine. But white hat hackers have demonstrated that cars control systems are far more vulnerable than automakers claim. They’ve been able to control braking and acceleration by plugging a laptop into the same on board diagnostic port under your steering wheel. That’s the same network bus telematics services and infotainment systems are tapping with wireless connections.

Facebook and Twitter in our cars? It’s a gimmick, says Nokia

An increasing number of automakers from Toyota to Mercedes are putting social media apps and features into their car dashboard, but Nokia’s Here connected car and mapping division decided to see if that’s a capability that drivers really want. Drawing from focus groups Here hosted in the U.S. and Germany, Nokia found the answer was a resounding no.

In fact, some drivers in both seemed almost hostile to the idea. From a blog post penned by Here’s head of market intelligence Christine Mäenpää:

Integrating social media into a car seemed like a gimmick to some or irrelevant to the task of driving.

“What’s the connection with cars?” asked Christoph, a 32-year-old from Germany. “When I’m driving, I don’t want to share anything.”

There’s also a sense that integrating social media into a car’s dashboard does not add any valuable functionality beyond what’s already available on smartphones.

For many of the people Mäenpää interviewed, the driver’s seat was one of the last refuges from the daily deluge of social media. But many also cited safety issues. Updating [company]Facebook[/company] or checking your [company]Twitter[/company] feed might be a great way to wile away the time on your daily bus commute. But [company]Nokia[/company] found that drivers felt they were dangerous distractions in cars, even though most automakers have implemented features like voice commands and audio playback to keep drivers’ focused on the wheel and the road.

While I’m all for more app and internet functionality in my car, I tend to agree with Nokia’s focus groups. I’m not interested in tweeting my random thoughts or examining Instagram photos of my new nephew while in gridlock on Chicago Kennedy Expressway (though I wouldn’t be opposed to an app that reads items from my networking feeds when I want to catch up on my social backlog).

There is a whole category of social-location apps that would be very useful while in the driver’s seat. Glympse, for instance, pioneered the ETA app, which lets you coordinate meeting locations and arrival times with friends and family. Navigation apps like [company]Google[/company]’s Waze and [company]Telnav[/company]’s Scout are adopting such location-based features as social apps like Swarm.

One of the nice elements of these kinds of apps is that they require less, not more, work than dealing with traditional social and messaging tools. Instead of punching an address and arrival time into a text message, you hit a button or speak a voice command and the app does all of the coordination. Ideally those location-sharing apps will one day integrate directly into the nav apps in our heads up displays.

Here’s Mäenpää broached those types of apps with her focus groups as well, but she still encountered resistance. So it may take a while for people to see the usefulness of location-sharing while driving. But Nokia also detected a bit of a double standard when it comes to different services. Most of these drivers admitted to texting while driving.

With AppLink 3.0, Ford lets you choose your navigation app

Drivers have long waited for the day their favorite smartphone navigation apps would come to their dashboards, but in the case of Ford vehicles that day could only be a year away. Ford on Monday unveiled the newest version of its AppLink system, which bridges the apps in your in your smartphone with apps in your car, and the key feature of that upgrade is its ability to support third-party navigation apps.

Given the popularity of mobile turn-by-turn navigation apps like Google Maps, Waze, Nokia’s Here Maps and increasingly even Apple Maps, you might wonder why we’ve hardly seen any of them appear in car infotainment systems. Most automakers make a lot of money off of their own embedded nav systems – starting with a big upfront payment for an upgraded navigation trim package and often followed by subscription fees.

Meanwhile services like [company]Google[/company] and [company]Nokia[/company] Here aren’t just competitive; in many cases they’re more advanced than their embedded nav system counterparts. They’re also free to consumers so long as they have a smartphone. While most automakers claim they’re open to any developer that can make a useful and safe app for their cars, when it comes to navigation they’ve always protected their turf.

But [company]Ford[/company] appears to be trying to challenge that common auto industry wisdom. It’s already supports a third-party nav app called Scout in older Sync AppLink systems through a partnership with Telnav, and it’s definitely been encouraging location-services apps like Glympse and Life360 into its developer program. Previous iterations of AppLink have had pretty basic graphical interfaces though, but with the third generation of the system, AppLink will be able to project smartphone graphics in real-time onto in-dash displays, making it ideal for maps, said Joe Beiser, Ford director, Connected Services for Europe, Asia Pacific and Africa.

The move to AppLink 3.0 will not only open Ford cars to broader array of navigation, mapping and location-based apps, but Ford is hoping it will open other automakers’ vehicles to its connected car technology. Ford has embarked on the seemingly quixotic quest to open source AppLink, offering it to other automakers and hoping to spur the same kind of cross-manufacturer app ecosystem that Google has built around Android. So far SmartDeviceLink — as Ford calls its open source initiative — doesn’t have any other takers from the auto industry, but Ford is lending a little bit more credibility to the program by supporting third-party navigation software.

In its announcement, Ford didn’t say it is specifically working with Google, [company]Apple[/company] or Nokia to bring their mapping apps into AppLink (Google and Apple are working on their own in-dash user interfaces Android Auto and Car Play that would bring their nav apps into Fords by an alternate route), but it did name Chinese internet behemoth Alibaba as its first partner. Alibaba’s AutoNavi app will be the first to take advantage to use SmartDeviceLink’s new map projection capabilities and presumably will wind up in Ford dashboards when AppLink 3.0 is released.

Don’t count on using AutoNavi’s in-dash capabilities on your drive home though. AppLink 3.0 won’t launch in Ford vehicles until next year, so it won’t even make its debut in Sync 3, the new upgraded infotainment system appearing in higher-end Fords and Lincolns later this year. It’s also unclear whether older Ford models will support an upgrade to AppLink 3.0. Many lower-end vehicles with AppLink only support text interfaces so it’s unlikely they’ll start displaying maps without a hardware upgrade.

Cars aren’t just connecting to the internet; they’re connecting to everything

As in previous years, we’re seeing a lot of car connectivity news at the Consumer Electronics Showcase, but an interesting theme is emerging at this year’s conference. We’re starting to see the automobile take its place among the internet of things, connecting not just to smartphones, but also wearables, the smart home and even the roads and vehicles around them.

When a smart watch is also a key fob

You can connect a smartphone to a lot of vehicle these days. But [company]Hyundai[/company] has done one better. It’s linking Android Wear watches to its Blue Link infotainment and telematics system. The app will let you unlock and start your car with a tap of a screen icon or even a voice command. What’s better is this isn’t some concept tech. It will work on Hyundai Blue Link systems going back to its first generation in 2012 Sonata, and the app will be available for download on Google Play this quarter.

The Blue Link app soon to be available on Android Wear devices

The Blue Link app soon to be available on Android Wear devices

We’re also starting to see more linkages between the smart car and the smart home courtesy of Nest and Automatic, the maker of the popular plug-in module that will turn your unconnected car into a connected one. Now your Nest can coordinate with your Automatic module to set your home’s temperature. Instead of turning on the AC or heat when you walk in the door, Automatic can let Nest know when you’re 15 minutes from your garage based on your driving patterns and therefore start cranking the thermostat well before you arrive.

That’s a pretty basic application, but we’re starting to see more ties between apps in the home and car through services like IFTTT and after-market devices like Automatic and Mojio, but hopefully we can soon start eliminating those middlemen. At CES, [company]Ford[/company] demoed its new Sync 3 connected infotainment system publicly for the first time, and one of its features is the ability to talk directly to your home network through Wi-Fi. Ford is only using that connection for software updates today, but Ford executive director of connected vehicles and services Don Butler told me recently that Ford plans to use Wi-Fi as a bridge between the home and car in the future.

And lest we forget smartphones, we saw one of the world’s biggest automakers, Volkswagen, commit to supporting [company]Apple[/company]’s CarPlay and [company]Google[/company]’s Android Auto software in vehicles released this year in Europe and the U.S. Most of the auto industry is doing the same, though most automakers are being pretty vague on the timelines.

What’s interesting about the VW announcement is that [company]Volkswagen[/company] is already supporting an alternate smartphone overlay system called MirrorLink, and it will continue to include it in its vehicles. We’re starting to see automakers open up to multiple different means of connecting smartphones to a car, and based on my conversations with car OS makers like [company]BlackBerry[/company] QNX, this will be the norm among car companies. That’s great because ultimately it will give consumers choice, which is something we lack in a lot of connected car systems today.

Cycles, snowy roads and internet-connected salt trucks

[company]Volvo[/company] and POC were on hand at CES showing off their prototype cycling helmet, which can communicate with Volvo cars to help both cyclist and driver avoid collisions. My colleague David Meyer covered the technology last month, but as he pointed out the chances of it actually preventing accidents in the real world were pretty slim.

Volvo POC cycle helmet

But I give credit to Volvo for experimenting with the concept of making cars part of larger transportation network. Of all of the automakers it’s been looking into ways to linking vehicles to infrastructure and the roads they drive on.

One of the most interesting examples is work Volvo doing with [company]Ericsson[/company] and local government agencies in Sweden to use embedded road sensors in its cars to determine snow and ice conditions on streets and highways. By crowdsourcing data from thousands of vehicles driving on roads in real times, city crews know where and when they need to send out their salt trucks to de-ice the pavement.

ces-2015-3

Subaru cars go 4G while OnStar starts teaching driver’s ed

CES is becoming quite the show of late for automakers and their suppliers to show off new connected car technologies, and this year’s annual Vegas tech extravaganza was no exception. Here are some of the more interesting automotive announcements I saw coming out of the show.

[company]Subaru[/company] is joining the 4G car movement, announcing deals at CES with [company]AT&T[/company] to build LTE connectivity directly into 2016 vehicles (though Subaru didn’t say which makes), which means they’ll likely make their way to dealers this summer or fall. And what will Subaru owners do with that connection? The automaker is upgrading its StarLink infotainment system with telematics apps, and presumably it will be able to use 4G to feed apps like Pandora that are already making it into Subaru dashboards.

If you’re a [company]GM[/company] owner, you can already use OnStar to call for help when your car breaks down or get directions to the nearest gas station, but GM wants its driving assistant to wear many more hats, including those of a concierge, mechanic and driving instructor. GM is adding new features to OnStar that will allow its advisors to book hotel rooms, restaurant tables as well as alert you to discounts and special offers from retailers.

A new OnStar diagnostic feature will start analyzing car systems like the battery and fuel pump and notify owners about potential problems before they occur. And this summer OnStar will offer a driving feedback service that rates your performance behind the wheel and offers tip on how to improve. GM is also partnering with [company]Progressive[/company] to offer insurance discounts to customers who rate highly in the program.

UIEvolution revealed on Monday that it has developed a new in-car networking technology using Bluetooth Low Energy. Called BlueSync, the network uses proximity to detect when a smartphone is in the vehicle, just like Bluetooth beacons can sense if you’re in a particular area of a store. Those devices can then automatically link to the dashboard without going through any kind of pairing procedure and gain access to certain features in the car’s infotainment system.

For instance, a passenger could send an address directly to the car’s navigation system or gain access to the volume or air conditioning controls via a remote link. BlueSync could also be used as verification system to grant passengers access to the in-vehicle Wi-Fi network.

ces-2015-3

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

Ford axes MyFord Touch, replacing it with a new in-dash system

Ford is replacing the much-reviled MyFord Touch with a new infotainment system based on Sync AppLink, its more successful in-dash connected car platform. The new system will be called Sync 3, and it will start rolling off lots in model year 2015 Fords and Lincolns and completely replace MyFord Touch in 2016.

The nomenclature [company]Ford[/company] uses for its connected car system is a bit confusing because, like all automakers, Ford has different hardware and software packages for different vehicles. Ford just takes the extra-confusing step of giving all them different names. What it boils down to is this is: Sync is the name of the voice command and control system available in almost all Ford vehicles. AppLink is the operating system available in many Sync-enabled Fords that lets you integrate apps from your smartphone into the dashboard. Finally, MyFord Touch (or MyLincoln Touch) is the touchscreen-controlled infotainment system used in fancier cars and trucks.

The MyFord Touch interface

The MyFord Touch interface

The odd thing is that Ford’s lower-end platform, AppLink, has been far more successful and useful than its higher-end platform. MyFord Touch doesn’t support third-party apps like music streaming services. It was panned by consumers and critcs for being slow and awkward to use, and even Ford chairman and namesake Bill Ford admitted the system was a dud when it first launched.

Ford has been fixing those problems over the last two years. But it seems that now the company is ready to throw in the towel, and you can’t really blame it given that it has the far better technology in AppLink to fall back on. Ford is also switching up vendors for Sync 3, replacing [company]Microsoft[/company] as the core OS provider with [company]BlackBerry[/company]’s QNX automotive platform.

According to Don Butler, Ford executive director of connected vehicles and services, Sync 3 will remain in MyFord’s upscale category, becoming standard in high-end Fords and Lincolns and an option in mid-range vehicles. While it will have the same voice command and app features as lower-end Sync AppLink vehicles, it will support a larger capacitive touchscreen, letting drivers use pinch and swipe gestures the way they do on tablets.

Butler added that Sync 3 will also sport simpler, more intuitive voice commands. Instead of commanding your car to “Play Artist: Beyonce,” you can just say “Play Beyonce” or name a song or album. The system should be smart enough to figure out what you mean.

Sync 3 will also introduce direct integration with Siri Eyes Free, which means you’ll be able to use the iPhone’s voice assistant features with one long push of the command button on the steering wheel and interact with Siri over the car’s user interface. That’s not the same thing as support for CarPlay, which will bring [company]Apple[/company] services and third-party iPhone apps into the dashboard. Butler said CarPlay and Android Auto integration are coming, but wouldn’t reveal a timeline.

Ford SYNC 3 Apps Screen

With AppLink, Sync 3 will be able to grok with your phone, accessing dozens of different apps from [company]Pandora[/company] and Spotify to Glympse and Scout. I’ve been a bit surprised that Ford hasn’t announced support for any new AppLink apps lately — and it’s doing very little to publicize the apps it does support — but maybe that will change with the overhaul of Sync.

Finally, there’s one more feature worth mentioning. Sync 3 will be able to connect to your home’s Wi-Fi network while your car is sitting in your garage. At first, Ford is using that for updates so when Sync 3.1 emerges you won’t have to upgrade your system at your dealer or with a USB drive. But Butler said Ford has bigger plans to use that wireless interface to connect your vehicle to the cloud and the connected home.

Ford moves away from car features to car “experiences”

While that focus has been mainly on industrial design throughout Ford’s century-long existence, Ford is now venturing into the world of digital design, shifting much of the design focus to the interior controls of the vehicle.