Well, that happened fast. Not even a week ago I was moaning about how car companies were terrible at software with those horrendous ‘infotainment systems’ they keep putting in their cars. Today, Nokia addressed all of those issues in one fell swoop – and took a swipe at Apple all at the same time.
Nokia has been struggling to maintain relevance in the past few years. They were slow to hop on the smartphone game, adopting Microsoft’s Windows Phone platform in the end to compete with the iPhone and Android. Their Lumia range has been well received, sold solidly, but not sold blisteringly fast. That said, taking on two massive established players in phones – Google and Apple – isn’t an overnight task. Still, the once mighty giant could do with lunging back into the limelight.
When you compare them to all the capabilities of a £100 smartphone, cars have been woeful. No syncing of maps or settings, no syncing of music, no apps (not really). The nasty in-car controls are all you have and offer limited capabilities (not to mention you need 10 years’ experience from NASA to work them). The most expensive luxury cars do less than some of the cheapest Android phones.
In strides Nokia. They have produced HERE Auto, a software platform to be installed in cars that utilises their high quality maps (which include up-to-date information on traffic and fuel prices) and lets car companies make their own apps in it. Do Audi want to make their own music app for the car? No problem. Do Ferrari want an app that tracks your racing performance? Go for it.
It also comes with “companion” apps for Android and Windows Phones, allowing you to sync places, routes and see live updates on your vehicle’s sensors, like fuel and tire pressure. Nokia claims you can even change the air-conditioning with it and lock or unlock your car, making your phone perfect for pranks and a dream for pick-pockets. (Handily, you can also see where your car actually is, assuming you have another phone.)
All those bits of controls the apps for phones use can also be used by other people. Facebook can utilize them for you, say, or FourSquare – which powers some discovery capabilities for HERE Auto.
Not just all that, but for once an in car system doesn’t look like it was designed by the Paperclip from Microsoft Office ’98, it’s actually rather pretty.
This comes after Apple – always reluctant to work with other companies on a product – was found to have patented a way to make your iPhone remember in-car settings and so on. In a swipe at that, Nokia’s blog stated – “we believe that a connected car isn’t about putting a smartphone in vehicles”.
Questions remain – how will Nokia make money from this? Presumably licensing, but how much? Will you be able to transfer music and videos to your car? Can it control multiple screens if there are displays on the back seats? Will any of the functions utilize voice commands and will that be any good?
Most importantly, however, which car companies are on board? It’ll be properly shown off at the Frankfurt Motor Show from September 10th 2013. I guess we’ll find out them.
Regardless, this seems like a leap in the right direction and could be an iPhone moment for the car industry that has LONG lagged behind the tech industry when it came to these kinds of devices. Moreover, if it works, Nokia will have been the first mover in a market crying out for a product like this. Right now, the heads of Apple’s Tim Cook, Google’s Eric Schmidt and Microsoft’s soon-to-depart Steve Bulmer are probably hurting a bit. And Samsung? They might be preparing Ctrl C, Ctrl V at this very moment.