Is Voice Control the Webscale Trojan Horse into the Car?

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1Q 2018 | IN-5057

At CES 2018, Toyota announced it would be partnering with Amazon to integrate Alexa into its infotainment platform, Enform. The software rollout of Entune 3.0 and Lexus Enform 2.0 will be provided as an update to select 2018 models over the course of 2018 and 2019. The Alexa integration will allow users to control in-car entertainment experiences, access Alexa skills such as news and weather applications, and allow users to control connected smart home devices.

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Amazon Continues to Collaborate with OEMs

NEWS


At CES 2018, Toyota announced it would be partnering with Amazon to integrate Alexa into its infotainment platform, Enform. The software rollout of Entune 3.0 and Lexus Enform 2.0 will be provided as an update to select 2018 models over the course of 2018 and 2019. The Alexa integration will allow users to control in-car entertainment experiences, access Alexa skills such as news and weather applications, and allow users to control connected smart home devices.

The announcement follows a growing number of Alexa integrations into the car. Over the course of 2017, Ford, Škoda, Seat, and Volkswagen all announced some type of support for Alexa Voice Service within the car.

OEMs Increasing Collaboration with Big Tech

IMPACT


Alexa is not the only voice assistant that has been entering the infotainment car experience. Google has also been forming a number of key partnerships, such as with BMW to bring Google Assistant into select BMW and Mini models.

Technology and OEM collaboration is nothing new, however. Technology companies such as Google and Apple already have their Android and CarPlay protocols available in numerous car brands and models. Although these were among the first concrete examples of collaboration between OEMs and technology companies, the collaboration seemed somewhat superficial. The protocols only allowed users to control their smartphones using voice in car; they did not allow users to control in-car functions and therefore restricted consumers from truly enhancing their in-car experiences. These latest partnerships announced by BMW and Toyota, however, are inherently different in that the voice assistants are truly integrated into the car infotainment system, allowing users to control in-car functions using Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa. These partnerships therefore signify a new level of collaboration between OEMs and technology companies and a new willingness by OEMs to work with technology companies to provide new opportunities to the consumer. So why are OEMs cooperating more with technology companies? For the simple reason that they can help enhance the consumer experience in the ways that the OEM can’t.

Voice control is the starting point. Natural language processing and knowledge extraction is a data-driven and machine-learning process. The likes of Google, Apple, and Amazon have significant voice and even search data that they can leverage from existing user bases across other offered services and consumer devices. OEMs simply do not have access to such a rich database to develop competitive voice assistants in-house. However, these partnerships with the likes of Google, Amazon, and Apple go beyond enabling voice in the car. These partnerships help integrate additional services such as search, e-commerce, and smart home control within the car. This not only helps enhance the consumer experience but also creates mutual benefits for OEMs and technology companies alike.

The Value of Collaboration

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Voice control services are almost all entirely cloud-based services. The potential commercial use for this data is invaluable to companies like Apple, Amazon, or Google. Amazon can use this data to drive the core of its business—e-commerce. Meanwhile, Google practically built its company on using consumer data, and the data as such will feed directly into its business advertising model. For further proof of how valuable voice data really is, take Samsung as an example. Samsung, despite having integrations with Amazon Alexa in the home and Google Assistant on its handsets, quickly sought to create its own voice control assistant, Bixby, which it then incorporated into its handsets.

The battle for control of voice control services in the car has just begun. Even though Alexa has clearly gained an early lead, with Google close behind, other vendors such as Apple are also clearly placed to gain a foothold with voice in the car, giving Apple a great opportunity to promote the Apple brand and the chance to cross-sell Apple services such as Apple Music.

While voice control services from big technology companies may be neck and neck in terms of capabilities, technology companies can help convince OEMs to partner with them by focusing on what unique features, other than voice control, they can bring to the car. For example, Amazon’s e-commerce platform provides a way of bringing suitable, simplified shopping experiences within the car, while Google search services provides a way of enabling contextual-based ad experiences. Other technology companies that may be looking to enter the space, such as Apple, Microsoft, or even Samsung, will also have to ask themselves, what can I bring to the automotive experience? Microsoft, for example, may have the unique ability to provide a more business-oriented in-car experience.

With all the discussion of creating an Amazon-, Google-, or Apple-centered experience within the car, where does this leave the OEMs? Clearly, the more the Apple, Amazon, or Google interface becomes integrated into the car, the more it becomes a part of the driving experience. Car brands will therefore lose their ability to distinguish themselves amongst competitors. As the level of cooperation grows, OEMs will need to tread a fine line between forming partnerships to provide a better consumer experience and ensuring they maintain their core brand identify. Counterintuitively, one way that OEMs may be able to achieve this is by forming as many partnerships as possible. By enabling consumers to control and change which voice control assistant they use, the service remains effectively an over-the-top service and not directly part of the car experience. Toyota, with its e-Palette platform announcement at CES 2018, is a perfect example of how, by creating an open platform, an OEM can retain control of the car experience while also gaining the benefits of having partnerships.

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