Gardening Apps

I do a lot of public speaking on The Connected Vehicle and am often asked to speak on the future of mobile applications in the car. Just a few weeks ago, I participated on a panel at Genivi in San Diego on the very subject. And today I’m prepping for an interview next week with the LA Times’ automotive staff writer, Jerry Hirsch, on the topic, in advance of the LA Auto Show.

Personally, I’m not a huge fan of mobile applications in the vehicle. This may sound strange from someone who has helped build and launch systems that bring smart phone applications to the car. I am a big fan of the Connected Vehicle and think that mobile applications are an interim step along the path to a truly realized connected in-vehicle experience.

Mobile apps in cars are not a “lean back” experience. And while I have no explicit data to prove this point, I would bet anyone $20 that mobile apps are not widely used regularly in the vehicle.

The ways apps are accessed in the vehicle take too many steps. You have to download the application, sometimes the OEM’s portal app. Often, you have to sign up, get credentials, and pair your phone. Other times you have to plug the phone in via USB. There is usually a period of time where the car’s head unit transfers data from the phone to update the vehicle’s app system. Once you have the apps and are connected to the vehicle’s systems, then you have to navigation to the proper screen, sometime buried under several menu layers, launch the application and manipulate within the app for each function.

Mobile apps in cars are not a “lean back” experience. And while I have no explicit data to prove this point, I would bet anyone $20 that mobile apps are not widely used regularly in the vehicle.

I was arguing this point with a fellow I hold in very high esteem. While agreeing that creating mobile apps for use in the vehicle is hard, fraught with difficulties not experienced with smart phones, and expensive, he is still a huge fan of mobile apps. He really likes the “freshness” of mobile apps and the possibility that someone somewhere is going to develop some killer mobile app that delivers a great service in a great manner.

I like hope. It springs eternal.

I try hundreds of apps, look for novel services, read endlessly about them, and am a huge fan of the app developer community. But honestly, I am tired of gardening my phone, pruning away apps I don’t use, being forced to endlessly update apps, and clearing away the clutter. I dread the day I have to garden my vehicle’s head unit like I garden my phone.

When I think of gardening my head unit, I think about where the apps should live – natively on the head unit vs 100% on the phone vs cloud based. There are pros and cons to all choices.

I was discussing the topic with a gentleman I work with and he broke the topic down in a very logical way. Apps that reside natively on the head unit carry with them an enormous complication of maintenance and keeping them up to date. For features that do not change often, like media players, browsers, phone application, email integration, those are fine to put natively. If a feature has a very slow changing API, put that app on the head unit.

For features that have daily use, regional nuances, and changing APIs – some navi and music apps fit this bill – put them on the phone. But if the features have really fast changing APIs and require lots of resources, offload memory and processing power to the cloud. Most navigation apps fit this bill or apps like Twitter that just change all the time.

It really boils down to maintenance and sustainability. Cloud based applications, in my opinion, are really the best solution for the vehicle because other methods just kill you in sustainability.