The battle for digital assistant supremacy shifts from the home to the car
- Verizon adds Google Assistant to Hum
- Samsung ramps up Bixby Digital Cockpit push
- Here to offer Amazon Alexa-powered navigation
After working overtime in 2018 to convince us to put vase-shaped connected speakers in our homes, it looks like 2019 will see purveyors of personal digital assistants focus more than ever on getting into our cars.
In the UK and beyond, consumers have been bombarded by adverts for Amazon's range of Alexa-powered Echo devices, and to a slightly lesser extent, Google Home. Judging by the news coming out of CES 2019 this week, it surely won't be long before every other advert sees a vaguely smug-looking motorist beat the traffic with a little help from their AI-powered pal. Or if Amazon's horrendously outdated and patronising 'dad' advert is anything to go by, they might even revive old tropes about women drivers.
"Infotainment is the strategically most important piece of the vehicle, which is why there are so many players all jockeying for position," said digital and mobile ecosystem analyst Richard Windsor, in a research note previewing this week's CES in Las Vegas.
Indeed, according to IDC forecasts released last week, spending on consumer IoT, which incorporates smart home, personal wellness and connected vehicle infotainment, will reach $108 billion in 2019, making it the second largest industry segment.
For any player, including telcos, that want to grab a slice of action, the message from CES couldn't be any more clear: partnerships hold the keys to the connected car.
With that in mind, Verizon, which offers various smart car services directly to consumers through its Hum unit, announced Monday that it will add Google Assistant to its in-car connected speaker during this quarter.
"Using the Google Assistant, Hum customers can ask about their car's location, fuel level or about any of the day's priorities, such as how long it will take to get to work or what's on their calendar," said Michael Maddux, VP of Product for Verizon Connect, which oversees Hum.
It's a clever strategy because it means Hum can go after cars that are already on the road, while Verizon Connect focuses on B2B, partnering with car makers to integrate connectivity and telematics services for vehicles as they role off the production line.
It comes exactly a year after Google itself announced that Assistant would be integrated into Android Auto, its connected car platform.
Not to be outdone, Amazon has continued to strike partnerships in the automotive sector. At last year's CES, it was announced that Toyota and Lexus cars fitted respectively with Entune 3.0 and Enform 2.0 infotainment systems would be equipped with Alexa. At this year's show, Amazon announced a partnership with Here, the mapping and connected car specialist owned by German car makers Daimler, BMW and Audi. The deal will see Alexa voice control integrated with Here Navigation On-Demand, while Here will share information from its location services platform with Alexa.
Go your own way
Meanwhile, rather than partner with Google or Amazon, electronics giant Samsung has been busy ploughing its own AI assistant furrow with Bixby. At CES, Samsung revealed that it is working on integrating Bixby with the latest iteration of Digital Cockpit, an in-car infotainment system developed by its US subsidiary Harman.
"With the integration of Bixby's connected car experience, drivers can remotely check how much gas they have before going on a long road trip or set the car temperature before heading out for the day. Using onboard cameras, the new Digital Cockpit recognises specific drivers and passengers and sets up the car's personal space accordingly – adjusting the display preferences, seat height, lighting, and queuing up favourite playlists," Samsung explained.
Harman has a long history of partnering with car makers, and Samsung will rely heavily on these relationships to accelerate the adoption of Bixby in the connected car market.
Where does all this leave telcos? Well, the aforementioned Verizon/Hum announcement serves as yet another fine example of an operator knowing when to tap its in-house strengths, and when to rely on third parties to fill in any gaps that require specialist expertise.
For the likes of Google and Amazon, telcos represent one of several potential routes to the connected car market, the others being the vehicle manufacturers themselves, and incumbent infotainment makers.
It is crucial therefore that any telco aspiring to be a digital services champion rather than a pure-play connectivity provider establishes a pivotal role in this rapidly-evolving ecosystem.
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