Like CES, the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona also now attracts its fair share of car makers. Ford was an early adopter a few years ago, and now others are joining the fray, too. I sat down with Dieter May, BMW’s senior vice president of Digital Services and Business Models (in an i3, of course).
During the conversation, he talked about a few topics, ranging from self-driving cars, to the future of car ownership and the new business models that in-car technology enables. “We offer [Apple’s] CarPlay as an option but not Android Auto,” he said. “We believe the changes that are coming to the inside of the car and the user experience — like self-driving cars — you have to control the customer interface. That’s part of the brand experience and for that, I don’t want to have an Android screen and I especially want to be able to deeply integrate these systems.”
He expects that the car of the future (especially when we’re talking about autonomous cars) will offer far more personalization options, which in turn will enable new business models, too.
“If you have six screens in the car, you also get gesture control, voice control with a personal assistant, etc.,” May said. “You need to have control over that user experience — maybe you can get away with it if you’re a ‘mass producer,’ but not in the premium segment.”
To do this, BMW built its own cloud platform that saves user preferences and other data about a car online and then allows drivers to take their profiles and preferences with them from car to car, for example.
Instead of Android Auto (and to some degree, CarPlay), BMW is focusing on A2A (Apps for Auto), which is part of the company’s ConnectedDrive platform. That allows apps to integrate deeply (and safely) with the car and, because it provides a stable developer interface, it allows the company to innovate faster, according to May. That’s mostly because it allows his group to work on its part of the in-car technology stack without having to stick to the slower innovation cycle that dominates the actual hardware part of the car business.
One area where BMW is far more excited about working with third parties, though, is personal assistants. The company already showed off prototype integrations with Amazon’s Alexa and Cortana, but May believes that none of them are currently great for everything, so what he wants to build is a system that can talk to all of them.
“We were the first car manufacturer who launched this at scale with Amazon because we were able to easily integrate it with our cloud platform,” he explained when I asked him about BMW’s work with Alexa in the car. He also acknowledged, though, that BMW — just like any other car manufacturer — has a lot of work left to do. “I believe this is a unique opportunity to position ourselves against the existing app ecosystems. It gives us a new opportunity because you’re not so dependent on them but new ecosystems are also on the rise. […] But if you’re sitting in a 7-Series BMW, you don’t want your customers to have to say ‘Hey Alexa, roll up the windows. And that’s all about the brand, of course.”
In his view, all of the assistants have different strengths. Bixby will probably be great for IoT and controlling your Samsung devices, while Google will be great for search, Amazon for e-commerce and Cortana for connecting the car to the Skype and LinkedIn ecosystem. “In real life, you also talk about different topics with different people,” he argued, and added that he doesn’t believe one company will be able to serve all needs equally well. For a car manufacturer like BMW, that means it has to figure out how to integrate all of them inside and outside the car.
How long will it take before we’ll see this in the car? “Our product cycle is now CES-to-CES. A year ago we showed Alexa and in August it was on our platform and scaled up,” May said. “The same goes for Cortana. We’ve demonstrated it and by next CES, we want it to be ready for production.” Indeed, he gets an annual budget for his group and the group is then expected to deliver by the end of that year. That may not look like rapid innovation, but compared to what product cycles in the car industry traditionally look like, it’s extremely fast. His group plans from quarter to quarter, while it typically takes a few years to get a car from concept to production run.
Because of this, having a platform with stable developer interfaces is key because it allows the developers to gain a degree of independence from the underlying car platform.
Thanks for reading 🙂