CES Continues to Showcase Connected Car Products

January 16, 2013  - By
Kevin Dennehy

Headshot: Kevin Dennehy

CES is big, loud and happens every year. For the past three or so years, the largest tradeshow in the United States has become a showcase for automobile manufacturers’ product rollouts…which is a far cry from the traditional car stereos and mega-huge flat-screen TVs you see walking the several football field-sized show floors. CES may not be everyone’s idea of a good time — hotels are expensive, you can’t get a cab as lines are a quarter-mile long, and much of the action for location may not even be in the show itself anymore. But it would be hard to say it’s a boring week.

The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas had lot of everything: 150,000 people, nearly 3,300 exhibitors and almost 2 million square feet of exhibit space. What it didn’t have was a ton of location-based services news.

Most of that action came at off-site meetings such as the AT&T Developer’s Summit and other venues. Still, a lot of auto manufacturers, partnered with the wireless carriers, use the nation’s largest trade show as a launching pad for infotainment units that feature two-way connectivity.

This connectivity will be important for hybrid navigation, both automotive and fleet management users and service providers who want the best of both worlds, said Kim Fennell, deCarta president and CEO. “[This means] off-board search and navigation to get real-time content, traffic, search along a route for current information such as parking spaces near a theater, as well as proper on-board capabilities when no wireless connection is available,” he said. “Companies ‘talk’ a good story, but the ability to do real hybrid is difficult technologically and so this conversation will gain prominence [this year].”

Ford and GM both touted their developer programs at CES. Ford’s developer program allows users to work with SYNC and AppLink application programming interface. GM plans to offer developers an SDK.

At CES, not a lot of new handsets were launched, as many manufacturers use their own events or other trade shows for launch. One of the biggest trends of 2013, Fennell believes, is the movement by handset manufacturers to launch their own LBS apps and services. “Of course, Apple made a mess of it — and the result is that companies now recognize that geospatial is hard to do…well,” he said. “This will get some companies to back off doing their own, while it will get others to continue, but with more care and attention to what it takes to do it right.”

CES always announces what companies think is going to be the next big thing. Unfortunately, consumers sometimes don’t always agree. A year ago, the big deal was Ultrabook computers, which were supposed to be the one-up to tablets and smartphones, but lackluster sales have diminished that fledgling market.

Two years ago, the big thing was 3D TV, which turned out to be expensive and lacked content. “3D is overblown. Not at scale yet,” Fennell said.

Maybe the PND Isn’t Dead Yet

The lag in portable navigation sales and the rise of the smartphone as the navigation platform of choice signaled that maybe the end was near for PNDs. In fact, many companies said consumers would rather pay the extra money for manufacturer-installed infotainment products with two-way connectivity than a PND.

This means that PNDs couldn’t traditionally receive current traffic, weather or new driving information on roads, restaurants and other services.

To start competing with the auto manufacturers, at CES such companies as Magellan rolled out PND models with Bluetooth that connects to a customer’s smartphone. The $249 SmartGPS uses a consumer’s cell phone data connection to receive social and LBS. It will soon offer Foursquare alerts and Yelp restaurant reviews.

Another PND giant, TomTom, partnered with Telenav at CES to provide its Live Traffic service to Telenav, which makes Scout, an application for iPhone, Android and Windows mobile devices.

In other CES news:

  • Garmin rolled out the K2 platform, a customizable unit that offers digital displays, voice control, infrared buttons, and smartphone integration. The unit features navigation, vehicle diagnostics, music and real-time information.
  • Subaru introduced Starlink, a new in-car connectivity product. The unit includes Aha by HARMAN integration that allows drivers to access tens of thousands of stations of Web-based content, from radio stations, podcasts, and weather sites to social media feeds.
  • Chrysler upgraded its Uconnect infotainment system with dealer-activated navigation, which allows Chrysler Group dealers to activate the navigation functions in vehicles equipped with certain systems.
  • One question mark at CES was the absence of Microsoft, which didn’t exhibit for the first time in years. In years past, reporters would stand in line to listen to Bill Gates, who usually opened the conference with a speech or product roll-out the day before.

End of an Era

One of the pioneer companies to integrate GPS into wireless devices, as well as take a big chunk of the enterprise market has been sold. As GPS World reported, Princeton, N.J.-based ALK Technologies was purchased by Trimble for an undisclosed figure.

ALK’s transportation, logistics and mobile workforce products are going to Trimble’s Transportation and Logistics division. No word about what is happening to ALK’s consumer products.

ALK’s two flagship products, CoPilot and PC Miler were sold in North American and overseas. Approximately 64 percent of North American for-hire motor carriers use ALK products, the company said.

ALK Technologies founder and long-time industry veteran, Alain Kornhauser, said last year that location markets had been good for the company. The company’s CoPilot Live had been seeing good sales in Europe, he said.

Kornhauser was a dynamic speaker at the GPS-Wireless conference for 13 years, informing and enraging attendees alike with his great quotes. One favorite:  “Telematics is a Stalinist term.”

Barry Glick, former MapQuest executive who was hired in 2011 as CEO, ran the company’s day-to-day operations. In December 2012, ALK established a new group, Enterprise Solutions, which combined its PC Miler, CoPilot Truck and CoPilot Live Professional Product lines plus supporting map data, software tools and professional services.

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About the Author: Kevin Dennehy

Kevin Dennehy is GPS World’s editor for location-based services, writing a monthly column for the LBS Insider newsletter. Dennehy has been writing about the location industry for more than 20 years. He covered GPS and location technology for Global Positioning & Navigation News for seven years. His articles on the wireless industry have been published in both consumer and trade magazines and newspapers.