Ap­ple of their eye

Mercury (Hobart) - Motoring - - NEWS - CRAIG DUFF craig.duff@news.com.au

THE “fren­e­mies” re­la­tion­ship be­tween tech duo Ap­ple and Google and the car com­pa­nies is show­ing no signs of be­com­ing more am­i­ca­ble in 2016.

It’s an un­easy al­liance at best as the soft­ware be­he­moths lev­er­age their dom­i­nance in smart­phone con­nec­tiv­ity while ex­pand­ing into their au­to­mo­tive clients’ do­main by de­vel­op­ing au­ton­o­mous cars.

As au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles make the tran­si­tion from test beds to vi­able trans­port how a car drives (at least in the short term) is less im­por­tant than how it stays on the road.

The po­ten­tial for con­flict came to the fore again at last month’s Con­sumer Elec­tron­ics Show when Volk­swa­gen was re­port­edly forced to can­cel a planned demon­stra­tion of wire­less CarPlay con­nec­tiv­ity af­ter Ap­ple ve­toed the move. Ap­ple’s iOS9 smart­phone soft­ware is the first to pair with cars with­out need­ing a USB ca­ble … and Ap­ple is in­tent on man­ag­ing which car maker pub­licly shows it off first.

The car­mak­ers are caught be­tween a fi­nan­cial rock and a con­sumer-based hard place. Set­ting your car up to pair to a smart­phone is a smart strat­egy to keep cus­tomers happy; see­ing the in-car data be­ing used to help de­velop al­go­rithms for self-driv­ing cars is some­thing al­to­gether dif­fer­ent. And that’s be­fore you con­sider the po­ten­tial rev­enue streams from tar­geted ads in re­sponse to a cus­tomer’s his­tory or re­quests for nearby shops.

BMW, Mercedes-Benz and the VW Group have al­ready taken the first step in wean­ing them­selves from smart­phonebased sat­nav by buy­ing the HERE map­ping ser­vice from Nokia.

They’re still be­ing coy on just how HERE will help mo­torists get from here to there but have in­vited other man­u­fac­tur­ers to join the con­sor­tium. The cloud­based ser­vice uses ded­i­cated maps cre­ated by spe­cialised ve­hi­cles fit­ted with cam­eras, radar and laser map­ping,

De­spite the hype over “con­nec­tiv­ity con­ver­gence”, it’s worth re­mem­ber­ing the car­mak­ers are still the pi­o­neers in self-driv­ing tech­nol­ogy: a Reuters in­ves­ti­ga­tion of pa­tents on au­ton­o­mous cars ranks Google 26th. Toy­ota leads the charge with 1400 pa­tents but un­like the tech com­pa­nies that tout ev­ery ad­vance to keep in the pub­lic eye, car mak­ers tra­di­tion­ally keep their in­no­va­tions un­der wraps un­til they are ready to be rolled out com­mer­cially.

Who’s go­ing to win this soft­ware-based bat­tle? At this stage it’s too close to call but the smart money has Google and Ap­ple team­ing with a car com­pany to pro­vide the plat­form while they con­trib­ute to the tech.

As the adage goes, keep your friends close and your fren­e­mies closer.

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