If you hadn't heard already, Apple is coming for your dashboard.
As Automotive News has reported, the expansion of the popular CarPlay app could see the tech giant taking control of "every screen in a car, replacing automaker user interfaces, and gaining access to additional vehicle and driver data."
If this deep integration with the car's hardware is embraced by vehicle manufacturers, it represents substantive evolution as it grants Apple and other third-party technology companies access to in-car controls such as air conditioning, while allowing the company to connect directly with real-time data such as speed, rpms and fuel level.
In essence, the cockpit of any new vehicle quickly becomes a shell for the iPhone and other technologies — and that could be a serious problem for automakers.
Though apps and integrations deliver a level of welcome familiarity to consumers, the Apple example demonstrates a kind of Trojan horse scenario. By permitting dominant tech companies to grow their presence within connected vehicles, manufacturers may ultimately see those companies intercept their own relationships with customers.
In time, through a combination of outsourcing and encroachment, automakers could even undermine the investment they've made in connected vehicles in two ways.
First, by allowing Big Tech to become an intermediary in one of the principal touch points vehicle manufacturers will have with drivers and passengers into the future. Connected vehicle technology is in place to help build closer, more attentive relationships between car brands and their customers. One of its core purposes is to make the vehicle owner feel understood and valued in a way that cultivates loyalty.
By intervening, third-party tech unhelpfully weakens the direct bond between the business and the user.
Second, by letting Big Tech grow its presence in the cockpit unobstructed, automakers could thwart their own opportunity to create new revenue streams via in-vehicle technology. It's no secret that as car manufacturers find it harder to make money from vehicle sales they need to find new ways to monetize cars on the road, so connected features and the commercial opportunities they present are critical for futureproofing their business.
Connected vehicle technology is helping automakers create seamless new experiences for car owners through digitally enabled services duch as food ordering, fuel recommendations, paid parking and more. This burgeoning ecosystem allows both manufacturers and their partners to leverage new technology to provide customers with unrivaled convenience while generating new kinds of revenue.
The data feedback from connected features also gives those businesses a privileged window into the habits and preferences of their drivers, so they can continue to learn and get smarter in how they cater to those wants and needs with value-added services.
If established technology companies can nestle their software within vehicle hardware, they can claim those same interactions and data insights, and even partner with rival service providers to beat automakers to the punch when it comes to new offerings.
And where Big Tech supplies additional or rival in-vehicle features, they own any customer data, with little or no obligation to share it with the car manufacturer.
This is the cost of any business allowing opportunistic third parties in on hard-won customer relationships, and companies must think hard about giving up control of the in-car, software-powered experience. If automakers want to be at the front line of communication with their customers, to benefit from their data, and to continue to speak in a distinctive brand voice, then they must consider looking to independent providers with friendly terms.
In fact, there is an exciting opportunity for vehicle manufacturers to make the connected experience a differentiator and use these features in a way that will help build out their distinctive identities and ensure longevity.
But this will only be possible through customized connected technology developed on neutral platforms, as well as more careful boundary setting when it comes to partnerships with technology behemoths looking to extend their own reach.