As the usage model for cars continues to shift away from traditional ownership and leasing to on-demand, ridesharing, and in the future, autonomous vehicle (AV) scenarios, how we think about our personal, in-car experience will need to shift as well.
Unimaginable just a few short years ago, today, we think nothing of jumping into our car and streaming our favorite music through the built-in audio system using our Spotify or Pandora subscription. We also expect the factory-installed navigation system to instantly pull up our favorite or most-commonly used locations (after we’ve entered them) and present us with the best route to or from our current one. And once we pair our smartphone with the media system, we can have our text and email messages not only appear on the onboard screen but also read to us using built-in text-to-speech capabilities. It’s a highly personalized experience in our car.
When we use a pay-as-you-go service, such as Zipcar, we know we’re unlikely to have access to all of the tech comforts of our own vehicle, but we can usually find a way to get our smartphone paired for handsfree calling and streaming music using Bluetooth. If not, we end up using the navigation app on our phone and awkwardly holding it while driving, trying to multitask. It’s not pretty. And when we hail a rideshare, we don’t expect to have access to any of the creature comforts of our own car.
But what if we could?
Just as our relationship to media shifted from an ownership model–CDs or MP3 files on iPods–to subscription-based experiences that are untethered to a specific device but can be accessed anywhere at any time, it’s time to shift our thinking about in-car experiences in the same way.
It’s analogous to accessing your Amazon account and continuing to watch the new season of “True Detective” on the TV at your Airbnb–at the exact episode where you left off last week. Or listening to your favorite Spotify channel at your friend’s house through her speakers.
All your familiar apps (not just the limited Android Auto or Apple CarPlay versions) and your personalized in-car experience–music, navigation, messaging, even video (if you’re a passenger, of course)–will be transportable to any vehicle you happen to jump into, whether it’s a Zipcar, rental car or some version of a rideshare that’s yet to be developed. What’s more, you’ll be able to easily and safely access these apps using voice commands. Whereas today our personal driving environment is tied to our own vehicle, it will become something that’s portable, evolving as our relationship to cars changes over time.
Just on the horizon of this evolution in our relationship with automobiles? Autonomous vehicles, or AVs, in which we become strictly a passenger, perhaps one of several people sharing a ride. Automobile manufacturers today are thinking deeply about what this changing relationship means to them and to their brands. Will BMW become “The Ultimate Riding Machine?”(As a car guy, I personally hope not!) And if so, what will be the differentiators?
Many car companies see the automobile as a new digital platform, for which each manufacturer creates its own, branded, in-car digital experience. In time, when we hail a rideshare or an autonomous vehicle, we could request a Mercedes because we know that we love the Mercedes in-car digital experience, as well as the leather seats and the smooth ride.
What happens if we share the ride in the AV, because, well, they are rideshare applications after all? The challenge for the car companies becomes creating a common denominator of services that define that branded experience while still enabling a high degree of personalization. Clearly, automobile manufacturers don’t want to become dumb pipes on wheels, but if we all just plug in our headphones and live on our phones, comfy seats alone aren’t going to drive brand loyalty for Mercedes. On the other hand, we don’t all want to listen to that one guy’s death metal playlist all the way to the city.
The car manufacturers cannot create direct integrations to all services to accommodate infinite personalization. In the music app market alone there are at least 15 widely used apps, but what if you’re visiting from China? Does your rideshare support China’s favorite music app, QQ? We’ve already made our choices in the apps we have on our phones, so transporting that personalized experience into the shared in-car experience is the elegant way to solve that piece of the puzzle.
This vision of the car providing a unique digital experience is not that far-fetched, nor is it that far away from becoming reality. It’s not only going to change our personal ridesharing experience, but it’s also going to be a change-agent for differentiation in the automobile industry.
And it’s going to be very interesting to watch.