This afternoon Anupam Mulhorta of Audi led a lively discussion on the automobile being the “5th Screen” for consumers. He went into some detail about the future of automotive interfaces and Audi’s vision in particular.
Audi’s latest in-car system features a touchpad rather than touchscreen controls. This was to avoid smudging and other usability/brand issues they saw with the latter kind of interaction. They have 3G built into every car with a hotspot that can support up to 8 devices.
The car navigation system uses Google Earth fixed to satellite view. Audi feels as though it would be off-brand to show “cartoons” rather than 3D satellite imagery. There’s a built-in browser that pulls in location-aware data. This includes voice search, with results made location aware. The example Mr. Mulhorta gave was if the driver said “I’m thirsty!” the vehicle would search for beverage options nearby. In addition, they have limited data feeds from credit card partners, so not only do they know where gas stations are, they know what they are charging for gas in real time and they have a sense of whether they carry diesel or not (for certain Audi models that need it).
Mr. Mulhorta went on to describe the ecosystem of connected cars as “chirping” data points, broadcasting valuable information such as traffic conditions into the cloud. The aggregate of all of these cars producing all of this data could produce not just interesting in-car experiences but perhaps some out-of-car experiences as well.
On the subject of advertising, Mr. Mulhorta indicated that consumers have shown great resistance to having overt ads pushed to their vehicles. But they do throttle search results depending on the state of the car. If the car is in motion, many text-heavy search results are deliberately suppressed. So if they could do that, does that mean they could start selling preferencial placement in search results and map overlays?
Although Audi has no plans to implement this sort of system and even in a limited extent make money off their in-car experience as a media channel, there is third-party equipment like TomTom that already does this. One might wonder whether every car maker will be able to resist this temptation or not. And for those who do try to monetize their intimate access to consumers in a controlled environment, could the right user experience reduce resistance to these sorts of communications? If well-targeted and non-intrusive, could they be welcomed? Time will tell.