Apple Wants to Drive Future of Infotainment, but Will Car Brands Move Over?

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As the value of infotainment features rise in new-car purchases, the desirability of controlling the digital environment inside the automobile rises commensurately. And it’s finally gotten juicy enough that Apple wants in. The big question of the moment in the auto industry, however, is: Do the auto brands want to let in the world’s coolest tech brand?

There already is divided opinion over whether to welcome Apple’s announcement at its developers’ conference this week that it plans to more seamlessly link its new iOS7 mobile operating system into vehicle infotainment systems. It’ll be a simplified, Siri-enabled application of iPhone functions into a car’s dash screen and infotainment system, essentially turning these prime locations into yet another type of software platform for all of Apple’s devices.

Apple says already that many auto brands are in discussions with it over uses of the platform, while it notably left out Ford, which linked up with Microsoft to launch its Sync infotainment platform several years ago.[more]

Automakers are torn over whether to accept Apple’s offer to transform their infotainment systems for a handful of reasons. One of them is that most brands already have sunk many millions of dollars into getting their in-car environments to where they want them to be—where it meets their customers’ needs and also extends the particular brand experience of the company.

Letting Apple now control all of that might be simpler in the short run but might cede too much over the long run, because of how crucially American consumers now are viewing infotainment capabilities, especially younger generations of car buyers. Automakers are continually upgrading their systems and plans in this area; for example, GM recently announced it’s working on deploying the industry’s first 4G-speed network in its cars via OnStar.

“That’s where I see some potential tension going forward,” Theo Koslowski, a vehicle-communications technology analyst at Gartner, told Automotive News. “That’s going to be an interesting balancing act in the automotive industry—to attract partners like Apple, but at the same time still hang onto that overall customer experience.”

“If that’s being given away to somebody like Apple, then [there] won’t be much left for the automotive industry to succeed in the connected-vehicle space.”

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