News Column

Tweet on the Road? Drivers Say Nope

June 7, 2012

Nathan Bomey


Consumers aren't very interested in using social media like Facebook and Twitter through vehicle systems, according to previously unpublished research discussed Wednesday at a conference in Novi.

Thilo Koslowski, an influential connected-vehicle analyst for technology consultancy Gartner, offered an early glimpse at new research into consumer preferences in an address at the Telematics Detroit 2012 conference.

When it comes to mobile applications in the vehicle, consumers are most interested in "specific applications that make sense when they're driving," Koslowski said. That includes real-time weather forecasts and information about parking availability. Gartner's research found tweeting or using Facebook are among the lowest priorities for drivers.

"This is again reminding you that you have to be careful not to confuse the car with your mobile phone or your laptop," Koslowski told attendees at the two-day conference. "The car is very different in terms of what it has to provide."

Some automakers are straddling the line between demand for apps and shifting consumer electronics preferences. German luxury maker Mercedes-Benz, for example, has introduced a new system called mbrace2, which can be operated only by voice while the vehicle is moving.

"It allows the user to efficiently and safely post to her Facebook wall," said Sascha Simon, department manager of advanced product planning for Mercedes-Benz USA. "We believe that telematics will allow people to be both connected and protected at the same time."

But the top three consumer in-vehicle "wants" are voice-recognition commands, built-in vehicle navigation systems and automated crash notification systems such as OnStar.

Koslowski said consumer preferences don't "sound very sexy" but underscore that automakers must be careful not to waste resources on superfluous technologies. Steve Bridgeland, senior product manager for Microsoft's Windows automotive embedded applications, said drivers are not very interested in a large "apps marketplace" for the vehicle.

"I think there are scores of apps that can be created, but they are going to be focused on drive-specific" needs, he said.

The average U.S. driver spends 47.6 minutes per day commuting, and carmakers want to boost profits and win over young consumers by creating high-tech infotainment systems.

About 82% of vehicle owners are willing to pay something for connected-vehicle options like Internet radio and safety systems, according to Gartner. That's up from 20% a few years ago. In China, 99% of drivers are willing to pay.

Koslowski said "quite a few" of the current players in the telematics industry will not succeed. Some automakers may be forced to partner with outside companies.

"I just think some companies will not be in a position to be successful on that on their own," he said. "In some cases, that may be OK. It will actually require too much of an investment burden."

Source: (c) 2012 the Detroit Free Press

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