2013
11.19

I have to confess I don’t know who came up with the expression that “It takes a village,” but we need a village and more to prevent driver distraction these days. I was thrilled to hear that AT&T added a distracted driving piece to its Audiovox Car Connection yesterday. AT&T along with carriers such as Verizon Wireless, Sprint, and T-Mobile have all taken driver distraction very seriously these days and that says a lot about the mobile industry as a whole. These carriers have all joined forces to educate, as well as unveil numerous solutions to help keep drivers’ eyes on the road and hands on the wheel.

While all of these companies have a vested interest in driver safety they are also proving that they care about their customers just as much as making a buck. In today’s economy it’s refreshing to see it’s not about the bottomline. With margins getting tighter as cellular is not growing, and it’s about data, carriers have to be careful that consumers are not getting caught up with using their smartphones to surf the Web or texting when they should be focusing on the road when they are behind the wheel.

It’s a juggling act for sure for the major carriers, but it’s good to see AT&T announced that beginning this Friday it will sell the Audiovox Car Connection Elite Series, to help drivers monitor, manage, and maintain vehicle health and safety. AT&T will provide wireless 3G connectivity so consumers can access up-to-the-minute information through a mobile app or Web interface.

The Audiovox Car Connection Elite Series is basically a smart two-way communication device that you just simply plug-in into your vehicle’s OBDII (on-board diagnostic) port. What’s really great about this is that it will work on almost all 1996 and newer model year vehicles. Like we have talked about before these commercially UBI (usage-based insurance) devices are intended to provide information about the health and performance of your vehicle.

These devices give you diagnostic reports to help monitor fuel consumption to conserve gas and maybe save a few bucks along the way. But the real fun stuff about this device is that it can tell you where your vehicle is and can provide walking directions to where you parked when needed. Now I know many of you know how many times that will come in handy in those parking garages.

In addition, users can setup safety zones and receive alerts when a driver enters or exits those zones. But here’s the good stuff, now this device can reduce driver distraction by restricting cellphone usage and provides driver scores to coach young drivers. Now we are talking; since we know more and more drivers are not texting, but surfing the Web when they are behind wheel. I think this is what will really come in handy.

Audiovox Car Connection Elite Series has a pricetag of $179.99 and is available at www.att.com or through AT&T retail stores. The product comes with no contract required, no activation fee, and only needs a $10 per month data plan.

I was pleased to hear what Tom Malone, president of AudioVox Electronics Corp., said about the driver-distraction element when he noted, “The driver distraction, teen driving and safety zone features of Car Connection Elite all help protect the driver and vehicle, and it addresses a growing area of consumer concern.”

This says that more and more companies are getting the real need to partner to make stronger villages. I am inviting all the companies that have distracted driving solutions to put them on display at Connected World Conference in February within the Chicago Auto Show. There’s no better way to reach consumers than at the largest North American auto show. It takes a village, so let’s all do it together so we can keep our roads and families safe this holiday season.

2013
11.19

Silver Spring Networks announced something rather intriguing today:  A network-as‐a-service offering, which will allow cities to deploy new smart-city services to citizens in a rapid, and perhaps cost efficient manner. So in essence it becomes a SaaS (software-as-as-service) type of offering, but rather than office applications we are instead talking about solutions that help with environmental, health and safety, traffic, and even transportation challenges for cities. Intriguing, indeed.

A few weeks ago I had a rather enlightening conversation with Sterling Hughes, the head of advanced technology at Silver Springs Networks, regarding the state of the “smart city” around the world. At the time the company was fresh off of announcing a rather significant piece of news related to networking 20,000 street lights in Copenhagen, beginning in 2014. What made this news so significant was the fact this was another example of Silver Springs Networks demonstrating real-world projects at a time where so many others are just talking about smart cities. Just months earlier the company announced a significant relationship with the city of Paris around lighting and traffic control, too.

During our discussion Hughes and I talked about the reasons why, for all intents and purposes, the idea of a smart city seems to be more talk than action. What I ultimately gleaned from that conversation was that cities (and partnering organizations) often face a myriad challenges associated with networking or platform development or even just the whole idea of scale—or perhaps where to begin (e.g., does traffic control ultimately provide a good starting point to other things like lighting solutions, or vice versa?)—when even entertaining the idea of a “smart city.”

At the time Hughes intimated that some of these hurdles might become less of a factor. Without revealing too much he gave me the impression that the company was indeed working on something big that could ultimately change the way smart cities are perceived around the world.

Now with its new network-as-a-service offering, what Silver Springs Networks is presenting is a very intriguing option for cities around the world that are facing pressures related to budget, yet are being pressured to deliver these connected services to their citizens. With this model, Silver Spring Networks is offering up its services to deploy, manage, and operate smart city networks on behalf of the cities.

Aside from the obvious benefits of avoiding upfront capital and deployment costs, I believe what Silver Springs is offering is a point-of-entry to cities around the globe. Similar to the way in which a SaaS deployment allows organizations to continually build off of the same network deployment for additional applications, Silver Springs is hoping to do the same for cities. The company says cities can use the same network to deploy more and more applications related to smart city over time.

The company is using phrases like “game-changing economics” and “reducing risk” in an effort to allow cities to essentially self-fund their smart-city network. But beyond that, I think the company touches on something rather important when it notes that such a platform introduces the idea of entrepreneurs or developers being able to provide additional value, using the platform, to the cities.

This is a very interesting idea and one that I think warrants paying close attention to in the long run. We have seen countless developer challenges around such things as the home, the car, and others, but we could start to really hone in on developers starting to target the city with new and innovative ideas. Getting cities to open up their APIs to hobbyists isn’t always an appealing option.

As you may recall we hosted our very own App Challenge earlier this year, in conjunction with the U.S. Dept. of Energy, where developers tapped into open-data sets in order to create some very powerful apps. What came of it were great app ideas for healthcare, auto, and more. At our Connected World Conference coming this February we put even greater emphasis on start-ups with a special Start-Up Pavilion right on our show floor.

Perhaps some of these start-ups are in the realm of developing smart parking or lighting control for cities—or even things we haven’t yet imagined. With this announcement, they might have a way to approach cities with their ideas in a way that might seem far more cost-effective than ever before.

Will a network city-as-a-service ever take hold? It’s uncertain. But announcements like this have us thinking of what the future of a connected world could indeed hold.

2013
11.18

It’s like billionaire Mark Cuban is now the E.F. Hutton of healthcare. When he talks, people listen. I might be taking some liberties with the Hutton commercial of the ‘70s and ‘80s, but there is actually some truth to this statement. Maybe not everyone is listening, but certainly they are now paying close attention to the data integration of apps and devices focused on healthcare these days as a result of Cuban’s recent investment.

Those of us who have been covering the mobile market and connected devices space recognize the power of data. We also know that once you combine apps, data, and healthcare you have a winning combination. In fact, at Connected World magazine we believe so much in health and fitness changing our world we even scheduled our own Connected World Conference to be placed in the middle of the Chicago Auto Show in February 2014 in an effort to get to a million people including, consumers, businesses, and investors to see what solutions the market has brought so far.

But like most tech innovators, much of these efforts had fallen on deaf ears, well that is until the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks owner stepped up the foul line and sunk the winning basket and invested in Validic, a company that integrates and manages data flow.

That says to me that Cuban really understands data, apps, connected devices, and the importance of managing and integrating it all together, and yes, everyone should listen when he talks, and follow his lead.

Validic is going places. Not just because Cuban invested in it—that certainly doesn’t hurt, but the company has a vision that will connect personal health data to the healthcare system. But more importantly it has a visionary that still is humble enough to talk to regular journalists like us.

In fact, when Mike Carrozzo talked with CEO Ryan Beckland last week it spoke volumes about a guy who has a vision and is still passionate to talk about it with anyone willing to listen, even though he just closed an investment round of $760,000 led by Cuban. And if he snagged the interest of a tech wizard like Cuban there’s a whole lot more where that came from.

So what are we talking about here? We constantly hear buzz around products like Fitbit, Jawbone, Nike, Garmin, and list goes on, but what Beckland and his crew did is make it simple to provide a single API stream to its customers. Now that’s music to everyone’s ears. That’s why the four P’s, as Beckland calls them, Payers, (insurance agencies), Providers, Pharma companies, and Preventive Wellness companies, are now able to easily access the data from the  devices or health-related apps as we result. 

What I like most about this story is that big-time investors are back in the market in a really big way after we are all still reeling from the worst economic downturn in history. Folks like Cuban get it. He sees that data collection of remote-patient monitoring and preventative healthcare will actually save millions while in the end making billions through individual mobile apps and devices such as medical tattoos, blood pressure monitors, and even fitness watches, wristbands, and so much more. This is one investor who recognizes that personalized health is the future of healthcare.

While we’ve have known it, since we’ve been covering it, I’m just glad that he is able to step up and support the tech innovators who really deserve investor support. He’s welcome to share his vision with us live on The Peggy Smedley Show anytime he wants. As I see it, if Cuban keeps investing we can only imagine the type of solutions we will see next.

2013
11.15

On November 5, Peggy Smedley, host of The Peggy Smedley Show, kindly invited me on to discuss the implications and issues surrounding the application of gamification to retail. It is an important subject that will absorb significant investments from retailers and brands across the broad spectrum of consumer products. The entire interview can be heard here.

There will be truly exciting developments in the use of gamification—with its ties to Big Data analytics and social networks—in markets and industries other than retail. One very recent one comes in the form of using gamification to improve recruiting results in the semiconductor industry. Accenture announced on November 11 that it would help NXP, a company that provides NFC-compliant chips making their way into myriad connected devices that comprise the Internet of Things, improve recruiting results through the application of “analytics, gamification, and social media techniques.”

What is exciting about the use of this technology triad (analytics, gamification, and social media) in a human-resources function (recruiting)? It is a brilliant approach to finding technologically empowered candidates for technical positions within a targeted demographic. Watch how this plays out among technology companies fishing for qualified talent in a common pond; early adopters will have a significant competitive advantage, as well as be able to reduce dependency on search firms.

Gartner Analyst Brian Burke’s report, issued a year ago to the day of our radio conversation, has been cited repeatedly to support the projections of retail’s adoption of gamification to grow customer engagement.

My concern about the increasing use of gamification in the retail space is based on one that played out in an older, initially analog, format: The loyalty card.

When loyalty cards were first introduced, they were no more than plastic user identification cards that one placed in a wallet and pulled out at the register in the issuer’s “brick and mortar” store. The physical card developed forward as a magnetic stripe-enabled card. POS (point-of-sale) terminals were being introduced into the retail ecosystem that could read the card and tie the purchase to the customer’s record. Bar codes were added to some cards when scanner capability at POS reached critical mass.

Regardless of the transactional format of the card, transactions were always one way. It was still a card and therefore consumer adoption, meaning participation in a loyalty program, leveled out at about 11 active programs. That was the general practical upward limit of how many cards you could fit in a wallet or purse. It was the “saturation point” for the consumer.

Most of those cards in the wallet turned out to be with merchants that were local to the consumer. With the rise of ecommerce, the customer could use the loyalty program online, and could print out coupons and other value offers to use at the stores, but the positioning of value on the plastic card was never a practical outcome. Some of you may remember that NFC-enabled cards would be the solution (think Japan’s successful early 2000’s network of merchants tied to the Japan Railway pass, which allowed money and other value tokens to be loaded to the physical card). It was not destined to happen here in the United States.

Then along came smartphones in late 2007. Here was the platform that would solve the problem of value delivery and two-way value consumption, but would be the answer to the problem of too many plastic cards in the wallet. The smartphone was positioned to be the electronic, mobile wallet of the highly connected consumer. This platform gave hope to NFC and other transactional formats that mass adoption was feasible.

Brands and retailers moved their loyalty programs into the mobile application space, and putting aside the recession, have, for the most part, successfully retained their core program participants. Yet as smartphones became pervasive, and their use at POS enabled (think barcodes or QR codes on the phone’s display being scanned at POS, for example), the problem of saturation arose—again.

Smartphone-enabled consumers have been changing the nature of shopping, giving rise to the “threat” to brick and mortar retailers called showrooming. A customer goes to a store, sees a product he or she likes, tests it out, and then goes online via the phone to shop for a merchant (ecommerce or other brick-and-mortar retailer) offering a lower price for the item. Retailers such as Best Buy are turning this around.

What is lost is the sense of loyalty. When you stay in a Best Buy store and purchase the item there after doing the showrooming drill, you’ll still be asked if you have the Best Buy program to apply the purchase against. However, did the loyalty program get you in the door in the first place? That is what the application of the triad technologies, the most visible of which is the “draw” that the application of gamification technique will generate, is intended to resolve.

That’s fine, but for “average” consumers, will they now come to Best Buy because of the game’s draw, or because the store remains locally convenient to where they live? It may prove to be some combination of the two.

We also need to be careful about what we mean by an “average” consumer. I don’t think that label is meaningful anymore. Rather, there are different “averages” that apply to the range of demographics retailers’ target. An average consumer in the 15-to-18 year old demographic is very different from one in the 50-to-55 range.

While smarter consumers may be less loyal because of the power of smartphones to search out the best deal, the challenge becomes just how many different merchants can you practically check before your make the purchase? People have bandwidth constraints too, and adding and searching merchant apps approaches marginal returns after some number of searches is done. The consumer hits the saturation point. Will a consumer that has a successful game experience trumpet the win to friends and family on Facebook, and not shop around? This is the desired outcome for the retailers and brands investing in gamification.

Merchant and brand competition for consumer mindshare through gaming tied to social networking will no doubt intensify. Will the 2020 forecast in the Gartner report be attained, or will some form of saturation take the adoption rate downward?

What do you think?

2013
11.15

Who knew Under Armour would be a company to watch in the world of M2M and IoT (Internet of Things)? Actually, anyone watching the market closely; or anyone who knows a thing or two about CEO Kevin Plank, for that matter.

This week the sports apparel company announced it will acquire MapMyFitness, the fitness technology company that uses GPS and other technologies to allow users to map, record, and share their workouts. While this news is making headlines today, it isn’t the sole reason I say Under Armour is a company to watch in tech. 

First a bit of context: I love the NFL. But sadly it looks as if this game is slowly dying from the inside out. And if something doesn’t change very soon, our Sunday afternoons between September and February might never look the same. Players today are bigger, stronger, faster; a trend that will only accelerate as we move forward.

The NFL has taken much heat for what some perceive as a lack of action in helping protect the future well being of its greatest commodity—its players. True, the league just spent millions of dollars settling with former players related to concussions. But some see such a move as being more reactionary than precautionary.

In my opinion, if the league truly wants the world to realize it is taking player safety seriously it would embrace the notion of connected technology.
With that in mind, though, I believe this season can be truly monumental for the NFL, and it has nothing to do with what is going on in the field. Never before has news of technology been as intertwined into the fabric of this game as right now.

Earlier this month the NFL announced it was ending an exclusivity agreement with helmet maker Riddell that had been in place since 1989. Beginning with the 2014-15 season players are now allowed to display the name of any company on their helmet, whereas in the past only those with Riddell were granted visibility by the league. The timing of the announcement came just a few days after an event where Riddell officially announced its InSite head-impacting monitoring system. At the event in New York, which our columnist Tim Lindner had the pleasure of attending, Riddell debuted the system that include sensors that monitor and record significant head impacts sustained by the player wearing it, and alert staff to events and even monitor trends.

So here you have a league that just spent millions of dollars settling with former players related to concussions, cutting ties with a company that just announced some breakthrough technology targeted at this matter. Some might question that move.

However, now enter Under Armour. Back in October the company made an announcement with the NFL and GE, forming the Head Health Challenge II, which is an open innovation challenge to award up to $10 million for new innovations and materials that can protect the brain from traumatic injury and for new tools for tracking head impacts in realtime.

Specific focuses of the pact includes technology that demonstrates clear potential to quantify head impact in realtime; detect, track, or monitor biologic or physiological indicators of traumatic brain injury; protect the brain from traumatic injury; mitigate or prevent short or long-term consequences of brain trauma; assist in training to prevent traumatic brain injury.

Among the ideas being discussed are things like the monitoring and integration of directional and rotational impact force into data, systems that monitor biomechanical and physiological responses to detect injury and quantify head impact exposures and that can collect, interpret, and organize large quantities of data in realtime.

So while some might view the fact that the NFL cut exclusive ties with Riddell to be questionable, I think there might be something bigger at play here. Under Armour has the attention of the fan—and even many players for that matter. Everyone from pro athletes to weekend warriors sport the company’s apparel. Plank, who started the company from his grandmother’s basement, has positioned his company well to challenge the big dogs in the sports-apparel market, and has boldly predicted big revenue growth going forward.

While some might scoff at such bold predictions, I think you need to watch out for this company. Who says that growth will come strictly from apparel? Plank is a man who repeatedly talks about the importance of “brand” over “product” and if you look closely you can see him slowly transforming his apparel company into branded technology company.

Look no further than its wearable technology Armour39 performance heart-rate monitor for professional athletes or the fact it operates the Under Armour Innovation Center encouraging next-generation product development, which may or may not include a line of shirts embedded with technology to help cool down the body (a cool long-standing rumor associated with the company).

I talk a lot about the idea of making wearables worth it—designing products with a purpose that people will want to wear. No one can seem to resist the familiar ‘U/A’ associated with Under Armour. And if Plank can take that brand appeal and turn it into an opportunity to improve player safety, he may have just secured his place in the market (sports, technology, apparel, you name it) for years to come. Perhaps the NFL agrees.

2013
11.14

I never considered the smartphone to be a fifth appendage. But I have to admit after Miranda Lightstone from Auto123.com made that point the other day on The Peggy Smedley Show she got me thinking. Have we become a society that cares more about being connected than we do about being socially correct?

What about the carmakers? Are carmakers now designing and catering to drivers who are more focused on their cellphones and texting than they are on keeping their eyes on the road ahead? Wow! I have been talking about driving and texting for years. But when Lightstone framed the conversation this way, I have to admit this was an even greater wakeup call for me.

I’m certain Lightstone never imagined I would get on my soapbox, but as I pondered our conversation even more, I realized that more and more motorists are dictating what they want in their vehicles putting their desires ahead of safety. Let’s face it, connected tech is constantly changing. That’s why all the technology writers are never bored and we all have so much to write about these days.

Consumers expect—and are demanding—cars to be connected and to feature the level of innovation they see in their personal devices. But here is where the rubber meets the road. Do we really need the same innovation in our personal devices to be in our cars? More importantly, should we have the same capabilities at our fingertips available to us when we are driving at speeds of 60 mph and our eyes should be focused on the road ahead? Lightstone says, no and I agree. She is not alone. It seems every journalist I have spoken with agrees that not every bell and whistle should be included in our vehicle. The bigger question now is: Where do we draw the line?

She notes that the technology in our vehicles now is so heavy duty that modern-day car buyers are more concerned with whether or not their cars can read text messages, access Internet radio, and talk back to them. Lightstone made the point that maybe it’s time to go back to the old days when we stripped the dashboard down to feature the basics of offering just a simple radio and not much more.

Although she is really not suggesting we go back to offering just radios in our vehicles, Lightstone does make a valid point. Have we just gone too far, too fast? On the other hand, she points out that technology has led to some really great safety innovations, such as traction control systems, electronic stability control, forward-collision warning, anti-lock braking, lane departure, back-up warning, or blind-spot detection systems. All-in-all, there are pros and cons to connected-car connectivity. Which leads us to our key question: Are the automakers letting consumers steer the direction of infotainment in the dashboard?

Another very interesting comment that she raised is that car dealerships are still very “old school.” It’s not surprising that many car dealerships are still focused on things like trunk space, speed, performance, and other more traditional vehicle features. Most fail to recognize that technology is key to the sale now. And as such, carmakers need to spend more time educating their dealers to the fact they are selling high-tech machines.

It’s ironic that most dealers really don’t understand that with the smartphone and Internet connection, drivers can provide so many points of contact that can be sent directly to the vehicle. Education is power. As a result, motorists are able to make conscious decisions to access information while driving or what to avoid, the power is now at their fingertips and so is the risk and greater safety issues.

The good news is that the car is undergoing the greatest transformation. What we can hope now is that we all make the right decision behind the wheel so we can enjoy the most out of the connected-car experience.

2013
11.13

The name Mark Cuban made me pay attention to the company Validic; but its CEO and cofounder Ryan Beckland kept my attention. When I saw the news that an investment group headed by the billionaire owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks recently poured money in a mobile health company I had to find out more. And when I picked up the phone to find out more about this North Carolina-based company the man who picked up on the other line was, of all people, Beckland.

It didn’t take long before we were knee-deep in questions about the state of healthcare, the market for connected devices, the competitive landscape, and more. Beckland, who started the company with Drew Schiller back in 2010, knows the numbers:  97,000 apps and devices, a 40% compound annual growth rate in the next 10 years. But perhaps most important, he can identify the hindrance to it all: there is no way to integrate the data and manage the data flow.

This is where his company comes in to the picture. Beckland tells me the company currently integrates with 83 different devices (that is fresh info, as his Website only says 75), including those from Fitbit, Jawbone, Nike, Fitbug, Garmin, Withings, and more. It takes the data coming off of those devices (and health-related apps) and normalizes the data to provide a single API stream to its customers. And those customers are known as the “four Ps” by Beckland: Payers (insurance agencies), Providers, Pharma companies, and Preventative Wellness companies.

Just think about that for a moment. If you are one of those types of customers, no longer do you need to worry about how you will obtain the data coming off of these great new device, nor concern youself with developing one-off integrations. Instead Beckland and his team deliver the data all in a standardized JSON format (all HIPAA and PHI compliant, too), meaning all of the user data is converted into common endpoints with each activity being time stamped. For instance, if one device records step data with the stream ‘steps_taken’ Validic funnels that all under the API ‘steps’ to make it easy for the customer to understand.

Here is what I enjoyed the most about my conversation with Beckland; the fact that he gets it. He started the company, which began building health-related software, by listening to his customers who repeatedly voiced concerns about API integration.

So he decided to switch gears and provide a service that makes it so the “Four Ps” aren’t concerning themselves with building thousands of API integrations, and instead focusing on how to extract the value from all of these great devices on the market in order to do the great things we are talking about, like develop better care models or modify patient behaviors.

Certainly this isn’t the first time we’ve seen a company try and integrate all the wonderful data coming off of connected devices. But I must say that spending just a few moments with Beckland makes you realize that Validic doesn’t view this challenge like others. As he says, “If no one can access the data and communicate it to stakeholders, then what is it there for?”

Perhaps even more to the point, he told me, “There is a big opportunity in healthcare and technology is a market that is exploding. But that ecosystem presents problems to the current healthcare landscape in deciding how to integrate, what data to integrate, and how to manage the data flow.”

Exactly. Besides, Mark Cuban doesn’t like to waste money, so it’s a safe bet he sees something in this group too.

2013
11.07

There is an old saying: Slow and steady wins the race. Is this also true in the world of M2M and IoT (Internet of Things)? It seems these days everyone is racing to be the first to connect this device or that gadget, but some companies may need to slow down and really taking the time to create a strategy around the launch, rather than rushing to market.

The number of connected devices has grown dramatically in the past few years—and will continue to grow for the foreseeable future. But with a statured market, only the companies with a strong deployment strategy and operational plan for the long term will win out.

The same growth can be said for the connected-car market. Research in the 2013 Connected World Sourcebook suggests there will be 92 million Internet-connected vehicles on the road by 2016, and integration of smartphones into consumer vehicles will become all but standard on new models.

This is putting a lot of pressure on the automakers to deliver connected-car services. And while rolling out connected vehicles will be essential for the car manufacturers, having a strong deployment strategy is key to continuing to drive the connected car forward in the future.

Today, Nissan rolled out its NissanConnect Apps service, and there is a unique takeaway with this announcement: Instead of rushing to market, the automaker developed a strategy to use a single connected-vehicle services platform to launch in multiple regions. With this, the company is poised for quick and easy rollout of future services.

By introducing its connected-car technology on a single platform, this will open the door for the automaker to integrate apps, cloud content, and other services easily into the vehicle on a global basis.

Consider this: The smartphone integration solution will be deployed in select Nissan vehicles beginning with the 2014 Altima sedan in North America this year, but regional rollouts will follow for more Nissan models, reaching 50 countries and 32 languages by the end of 2014. Now, that is quite a feat, and it can be attributed to the fact that Nissan came to the table and developed a detailed plan for how it wanted to rollout on a global basis before jumping into one regional market.

So who will win the connected-device race: the tortoise or the hare? I say, don’t consider it a race. You don’t necessarily need to be the first to market, but you do need to have a strategy for how you will continue to build on your product and services for the long term. Without that, you will likely be left in the dust.

Want to tweet about this article? Use hashtags #M2M #connectedcar

2013
11.06

Automakers have an opportunity right now with customers to pitch the benefits of technology. But are they missing the boat? After interviewing Bryce Hoffman, automotive industry reporter, The Detroit News, on my radio show I have to concur with his assessment that the automakers are squandering their chance to educate consumers about connected technology.

We all agree the connected-car industry is seeing rapid developments these days, but it’s also a very challenging time. With that said, there is a generational conflict that has developed in terms of technology in the car. Older motorists, i.e., baby boomers, are happy with the way cars have always worked—which means purchasing a vehicle for speed, power, performance, and appeal. However, now toss in some sophisticated technology and what you get are frustrated drivers, Hoffman said during the interview, who don’t understand how to work the technology in today’s advanced models.

On the flipside, younger drivers are demanding connected tech in their vehicles. Thus, automakers are caught between two demographics in terms of deciding who to please and how to please them. What’s an OEM (original-equipment manufacturer) to do?

Hoffman suggests automakers put a greater focus toward their educational efforts so that consumers are accustomed to technology in the car. He notes Ford learned its lessons the hard way with SYNC and MyFord Touch. Customers were very critical until Ford made some serious changes to the systems to reflect customer feedback and interactions. He adds it’s imperative that drivers are knowledgeable about the technology in their cars before they drive off the lot.

When dealers/automakers are selling their cars they have a tremendous opportunity to pitch the technology benefits of their vehicles. For instance, the technology in the Cadillac CUE has proven to be very confusing as noted in some recent studies, including Consumer Reports. But if the automaker were able to talk to customers about the important aspects of the connected technology, it could ultimately wind up with a higher satisfaction rate, explains Hoffman. The irony here is that many carmakers still do not get it and are failing miserably when it comes to educating the public.

Hoffman made another great point that’s worth noting. Automakers also need to keep in mind that driver’s need options. Companies should make it easy for motorists to lock out connected features if they don’t want them, but at the same time making sure they can be accessed if desired.

Only time will tell if the auto industry will catch on quick enough to save itself or whether it will cling to its old rigid ways of the past. Times are a changing and so is the technology.

2013
11.06

I came across a great story this week that puts this whole “wearable” discussion into perspective. U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer is calling for the DOJ (Dept. of Justice) to create and fund a program to provide voluntary GPS tracking devices for children who have Autism or other developmental disorders.

I applaud this effort and realize that something calling for the government to fund connected devices is not unprecedented (a federal government program already in place to track seniors who have Alzheimer’s using GPS devices). I love the fact that connected devices can help provide this type of peace of mind for loved ones and caregivers, and even more so the fact that someone is out there championing efforts to help offset the cost of the device (which can be more than $100) and even the monthly service costs to those who are in need.

I keep rather close tabs on this matter for personal reasons. One of my wife’s best friends is the mother of an Autistic child and as a result we always tend to keep an eye out for things that can help. In particular, because of my role as Chief Editor of Connected World I am constantly trying to share new devices, apps, and other ideas with my wife’s friend. So needless to say I was excited to share this news today. Again, I applaud the efforts of Schumer, and for those who might be questioning whether or not this is necessary, I find his quote here to be particularly insightful: 

He says: “The sights and sounds of cities, schools, and other busy places can be over-stimulating and distracting for children and teens with Autism, often leading to wandering as a way to escape. Voluntary tracking devices will help our teachers and parents in the event that the child runs away and, God forbid, goes missing. DOJ already funds these devices for individuals with Alzheimer’s and they should do the same for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Funding this program will help put school systems and parents of children and teens with Autism at ease knowing where their children are.”

Some would characterize this as “bolting” or wandering—and officially this is called elopement, which means having a tendency to leave a safe place. Schumer’s proposed voluntary program for parents would be run by local law enforcement agencies and even include funding to help train individuals for how to use and maintain these devices. 

So coming full circle with the whole connected devices discussion here, I think opportunities like this present yet another compelling argument for this whole burgeoning wearable-technology market. I’ve said before that while the market is hot right now with many players, I contest that those that ultimately exhibit staying power are the ones that differentiate themselves in two ways: usefulness and style.

In the case of this program, I believe success will be tied to the way in which the devices are able to hide, for lack of a better term, into the everyday lives of these children. In other words, a device clipped onto a belt might not be as readily embraced as perhaps a cool-looking watch or bracelet or anklet that becomes not only a potentially life-saving device, but also a fashionable accessory.

This is a big topic in the senior market these days and we have been testing out a few devices that are small and light weight enough so as not to pose as “tracking device” to seniors, but rather just another accessory that also happens to provide a useful function. This will be important for what Schumer is proposing as well. I hope the wearable technology market is taking notice of just how powerful a role they could be playing in this world beyond just providing some “cool” looking watch.