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Inrix, GM and Ford in auto industry backlash against Apple and Google

The automotive industry is waking up to the value that connectivity can create in its vehicles, and the MNOs are seizing the opportunity to add more SIMs to their portfolios. But the interior of the car is also becoming a battleground for the smartphone ecosystems, as the automakers work with Apple and Android, but also chase the greater control that an inhouse platform would provide.

The acquisition of Nokia’s Here mapping division by a group of German carmakers was one sign of the auto sector’s desire to be in charge of its own connected car destiny. And this week, traffic data specialist Inrix has acquired OpenCar, a connected car platform that allows automakers to build their own in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) systems – retaining control and keeping their valuable data out of the hands of the emerging Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto.

Inrix is going to use OpenCar to move further inside the car itself, inside the dashboard in particular. The purchase will enable it to provide customizable user interfaces to automakers looking to offer connected car IVI systems and standalone applications (this is not a smartphone bridging tool).

This is a move that directly challenges CarPlay and Android Auto, two IVI systems that aim to allow a standardized way for automakers to integrate smartphones into the car. These two platforms allow the driver and occupants to control the car using the phone, and make use of the handset’s apps and media while driving.

While Google and Apple have huge leverage over consumers thanks to their direct influence over the smartphone operating systems, there hasn’t been a surge of adoption of their platforms by the carmakers. This is largely due to reluctance to hand over the keys to the IVI experience – and the monetization opportunities, such as advertising or subscription services – to the web players. There is also the issue of longevity, since cars have far longer product lifecycles than smartphones.

OpenCar provides a white label standards-based application development environment and framework – allowing automakers to build their own applications for the OpenCar platform, and brand them accordingly.

The platform also claims that unlike CarPlay and Android Auto, OpenCar doesn’t require access to the sensitive car data, which the two would look to monetize in some form. The company says that this allows brand, model, and region-specific voice and touch interface specification. OpenCar is adamant that this provides a “unique capability that empower OEMs to enhance their brand and satisfy consumer demand through a variety of IVI, media, and location-based applications,” with the car manufacturer retaining control of how the data generated by the car is used, shared and stored.

In terms of the ecosystem, Inrix has acquired a platform with around 1,300 registered developers from hundreds of companies – all working to integrate physical services or places, such as hotels, restaurants, or parking, into the IVI system. Inrix’s other services are used by Audi, BMW, Ford, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Rolls Royce, Tesla, Toyota, and VW. OpenCar has held a five-year partnership with Mazda, and is also used by VW-brand Audi. It is not yet publicly available to other customers.

“Today, over half of the connected vehicles in the world use Inrix services. By 2020, more than a quarter of a billion connected cars will be on the road,” said Bryan Mistele, president and CEO of Inrix. “With the OpenCar acquisition, Inrix is in the driver’s seat to provide those connected services and expand into the digital dashboard with unique, easy-to-use applications designed especially for next-gen automotive experiences.”

Inrix is also launching its Autotelligent driver assistance platform, which is a cloud-based machine learning enabled service that aims to simplify navigation. By learning the driver’s frequent routes, and combing the calendars and contacts from a smartphone, it aims to provide optimized routes – with traffic prompts and hazardous conditions alerts, including Inrix’s Road Weather system. Autotelligent will work with OpenCar at launch.

“We’re excited to see additional competition in this important connected car segment,” said Audi’s Marcus Keith, Head of Human-Machine Interface Development. “The combination of Inrix and OpenCar should be very compelling for bringing new applications.”

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