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Blurring the line between cars and smartphones

Posted: 10 Jan 2014     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:smartphone  car  LTE  infotainment 

A number of carmakers leveraged their expertise in turning "smartphones into cars" and vice versa to deliver a totally different of customer service and satisfaction at CES 2014. "I took a smartphone and wrapped a car around it." That's what Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, reportedly said in a private conversation with Amit Rohatgi, an executive at Imagination Technologies who loves cars and owns two Tesla's Model S.

As I sit in keynotes, attend press briefings, and meet executives at this year's International CES, I realise Tesla's Musk is no longer the only gearhead thinking that way. The perception of a car turning into a smartphone (or a smartphone turning into a car) is a prophecy fulfilling itself at 90 miles an hour.

I'd have to admit, though, that calling a connected car "a smartphone on wheels" always makes me a little weary. Possibly because I've been here before.

News coming out of CES this year has begun to look a lot like the bulletins that used to come out at the Mobile World Congress in the early days of smartphones. Such stories range from new contracts with mobile service operators, killer service and apps development, details of a "brain" (SoC) that empowers infotainment systems, and a never-ending debate on which operating system is best positioned to dominate the "infotainment" platform.

At this year's CES, evidence of smartphones subsuming cars are plenty. Look no further than the keynote speech by Audi's chair Rupert Stadler Monday night.

The German carmaker brought AT&T Mobility CEO Ralph de la Vega on stage, who announced that the carrier will provide 4G LTE connectivity in the Audi A3 in the US.

Along with AT&T Mobility's CEO, Audi's Stadler also trotted out Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang. Onstage, Huang said, "If we're in the middle of the mobile computing revolution, then the car is the most advanced mobile computer we have."

Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang

Figure 1: Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang on stage during Audi's keynote.

He took from his pocket the company's modular infotainment board (MIB) module that powers Audio's infotainment systems. That gave Huang a perfect segue way to talk up the company's newly announced Tegra K1 "super" chip. He noted, "I can't wait to see what Audi does with Tegra K1."

You plug me, I'll plug you, and we'll both drive off together.

CES this year also brought more announcements on partnership agreements between car companies and mobile operators.

General Motors said that beginning this summer 10 Chevrolet vehicles will have AT&T 4G LTE cellular connections as an option through the OnStar platform. GM also said that the majority of 2015 vehicles in the Chevy line-up will have the connection installed at launch.

4G LTE-equipped cars, essentially mobile hotspots, will allow for faster data transfers from the cloud, letting passengers connect multiple devices simultaneously. GM, however, did not announce pricing for the requisite data packages.

Delphi, meanwhile, recently launched in partnership with Verizon Wireless 4G LTE connectivity "add-ons" to vehicles. Through Delphi's cloud-based automotive connectivity system, users can remotely control, monitor and track their vehicles in real-time through a smartphone, said Kathy Winter, VP of software and services at Delphi.

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