This past week, Apple announced CarPlay, a rebranding of its iOS in the Car initiative that was announced at its June 2013 Worldwide Developers Conference. My own answer to the question I pose in the title above is at the end of this article.
Having been around the IP video and IPTV world for almost a decade and a half, I can recall how many times the IPTV plane was on the runway and seemed poised for takeoff. I remember writing an article in January of 2002 for Cable & Satellite International, titled “TV over Copper: Is 2002 the year?” With 20:20 hindsight, no it wasn’t.
By then, a lot of Telcos had already launched TV-over-DSL services to paying subscribers, going back to Canada’s Aliant and Kingston Interactive Television in the UK in the late 1990s, followed by Livingston (TX) Telephone and the UK’s Video Networks Ltd (and other pioneering independent operators) by the end of 2000. By 2005, there were hundreds.
The real turning point was when the large incumbent Telcos were able to reach scale. In the US, it was when AT&T and Verizon began to deploy their respective U-Verse TV and FiOS TV services at the end of 2005. In France, it was France Telecom’s MaLigne TV, along with a group of broadband competitors offering hybrid IP-satellite TV. In Hong Kong, PCCW’s Now TV had reached 750,000 by the end of 2006, and was the world’s largest IPTV provider for several years. In 2009, PCCW hit a million subscribers and had about 1/3 of the Hong Kong pay TV market.
My 2002 article was all about the transition to IP from Asynchronous Transfer Mode. In other words, it was about the network. But a lot of other tumblers had to fall into place before the real potential of IPTV could be unlocked: set-top boxes, middleware, MPEG encoding, standardized network architectures, content security, best practices for video quality assurance, and much more; not to mention the content itself. Each time one of the tumblers clicked, we all thought we were on our way.
It’s tempting for people watching the auto industry’s steady progress to fall into the same trap. After all, Apple is in this now, so the Connected Car category must be mature. But that’s still far from true. Consider some of the early adopters. One was Ford’s Sync, based on Microsoft Windows Automotive Embedded technology. The conventional wisdom in 2009 being that Microsoft, of course, was going to own the Connected Car (just as they “owned” IPTV between about 2005 and 2010, which was arguable because AT&T was by far the largest single customer. Most of the others were small and some never deployed).
But Microsoft followed success with surrender and exited the IPTV space in 2013 by selling its Mediaroom unit to Ericsson, which will certainly transition the 45 or so Telcos using that platform over to something a little more Ericsson in nature, in the long run. So it’s natural to question Microsoft’s situation with Ford, given that Ford has recently been in the news with both Google and Apple.
On the heels of Apple’s CarPlay announcement, 9to5 Mac ran an article that asked “Will CarPlay impact your next car purchase?” And consumers weighed in with some obvious comments “Most cars already have a touch screen, so (why not buy one that integrates) with my main device.” and “Will Apple … have updates?,” “I’m sure there are safety concerns,” and “All I need on the dash is heater/AC and an AM/FM radio…” One technology-informed responder said “…(because) it relies on Blackberry’s QNX underpinnings … I can just schlep down to Best Buy… and pick the car stereo of my choice, as long as it uses QNX.”
Each of the concerns make valid points: compatibility, usability, relevance, not going out of date. It’s also not hard to envision the average car buyer wanting to choose the mobile OS that they already live with, just as they do for exterior paint and interior upholstry.
QNX happens to enable the virtualization of client operating systems, so a single QNX-based IVI system can conceivably host iOS, Android and Windows Embedded for Automotive. Linux-based operating systems like QNX or GENIVI (or even techology initiatives like MirrorLink) can enable auto OEMs and aftermarket suppliers to create an OS-neutral environment. But none of the car companies offer anything close to that yet to consumers, and automotive product lifecycles are (ahem) a lot longer than software lifecycles.
Another piece of the ecosystem is wide area connectivity. The Connected Car has been a strategic initiative for a number of major Telcos in Europe, Asia and the US, which has made it one for their network suppliers as well. iPhone reseller AT&T has a compelling vision for the Connected Car, and already enables application developers to leverage APIs into services that include U-verse TV, smart home, location awareness, mobile messaging, and mobile payments.
This January, AT&T announced its AT&T Drive connected car developer platform during its Global Developer Summit in Las Vegas, which coincides with CES. Soon afterward, AT&T opened its AT&T Drive Studio at its Atlanta GA Developer Foundry facility. AT&T also partners with GM (which is embedding 4G LTE capability in all its cars by the end of this model year, and is sure to help address the need for in-vehicle software updates).
So, will CarPlay really be the catalyst to bring the Connected Car into the mainstream? In a word, no. A significant step, maybe: along with Siri Eyes Free, which is available in some Chevy vehicles, it may represent a mainstreaming point for the in-vehicle user experience. But the Connected Car is an ecosystem and the possibility that AT&T, GM and Apple might be working alongside one another toward the same goals (even if not together), is a show of category maturity.
Once again, just as it was with IPTV a decade ago, a lot of tumblers must click into place, and no single party is in control of all the tumblers, except arguably the car companies, which are the most conservative actors in the entire initiative.
Note: Steve Hawley will be conducting a conference session on the Connected Car at the 2014 TV Connect conference in London, which takes place from March 18 to March 20.