Fasten Your Seat Belt – Autonomous Cars Offer a Hot, Fast Ride!

The Mobile Technology Association of Michigan (MTAM) encourages our members to submit educational content to the MTAM blog that can help our readers gain increased understanding of technologies, trends, programs, and initiatives taking place in the mobile/wireless (connected) tech eco-system. Below, please find a submission from  long-time MTAM member, Paul Jacobs of jacAPPS.

jacAPPS was among the first members of MTAM, and has been among the most prolific of mobile app development firms in Michigan – despite the fact that they’ve kept their staff to a manageable size. In spite of being only 7 years old, the firm has surpassed over 1000 mobile apps and 24 million downloads for a wide range of clients across the country, including strong relationships with a wide variety of media companies, real estate, healthcare and other industries. jacAPPS was a recipient of the 2015 ’50 Small Businesses to Watch in Michigan’ and has won numerous awards, including a two-time recipient of Corp! Magazine’s DiSciTech awards.

If you would like to explore MTAM membership so you may also share your firm’s expertise, visit our website at or email us at


By: Paul Jacobs, President, jacAPPS

The car industry is hot.  And I don’t mean just car sales.  I mean that there is a growing buzz in the ways that entertainment and content presentation has changed in cars.  On top of that, gone are the days when the auto industry doled out “innovations” whenever they felt like it.  Today, there’s a race to be first and best with new technology and an enhanced driving experience.

Everyone in the game needs to keep pace, or be passed by.

Over the past several months, we have had the honor of speaking at a wide array of conferences, including content-oriented conventions and those that focus on in-car audio entertainment.  Regardless of the setting, everyone in attendance was riveted by all things automobile and the impact on radio and other content providers.

Radio is the longest-running content provider in automobiles, and we have worked in the industry since the 1970s.  So while this post will allude often to the radio industry, the lessons learned and the challenges ahead impact broadcasters, content providers, and mobile app developers.

Just a few short years ago, very few people in broadcasting and other content plays were talking about cars. Today, you can’t hold a convention or company meeting without talking about the “connected car” and its implications on the business.  I’m attending the Podcast Movement conference this week in Chicago – there will be over 1,000 podcasters in attendance, and while they will be talking a lot about how to create a compelling podcast, they are also going to talk about podcast distribution, ranging from iTunes, mobile applications, and of course, the connected car.

The big challenge for content providers and mobile app developers is that the auto industry is moving much faster than ever before – even faster than some suppliers. And they’re looking far down the road – not in the rearview mirror.  The “connected car” is hitting scale, and will continue to grow like wildfire over the coming years. Virtually everything coming out of Detroit, Germany, and Japan will be connected. Scotiabank and BI Intelligence project that by 2020, fully 75% of cars shipped globally will have connected features and capabilities.jacapps 1

This flurry of activity points the way for the car to become another “smart device,” enabling these computers on four wheels to be mobile participants in the rapidly expanding Internet of Things. We’ve been seeing this for the past seven years at CES as companies like LG aren’t just generating buzz for their 4K televisions, but also for a host of other appliances that include refrigerators, washers and dryers, and home security systems, all of which are connected.

But it’s the car that’s becoming the new center of content provider’s universe. All content providers and mobile developers are going to have to work hard to ensure that remains the case. While consumers continue to strongly demand AM/FM radios in their new cars, their desires for connectivity features continue to grow, too. And as Apple and Google invade the dashboard, broadcast radio’s front and center position is threatened, as is the status quo.

Clearly, it’s the smartphone that is the digitally connective tissue that links cars with media entertainment and information. Since Apple opened its App Store eight years ago, changing the face of our communications, the mobile phone and the dashboard have become key conduits. And audio providers have been able to participate in this new journey, enabled by the ability to create mobile apps for stations, networks, and entire broadcasting companies. We’ve enjoyed taking part in this next step in the dashboard story via our mobile app company, jācapps, which launched 100 days after Apple opened its iOS platform to outside creators.

And then there’s the autonomous movement, progressing faster than anyone – including the automakers – might have imagined. BI Intelligence estimates 10 million cars with self-driving capabilities on the road by 2020, raising the question about what “drivers” of these vehicles will be doing to entertain and inform themselves while paying less attention to the road ahead. jacapps2

There is a feeding frenzy in the space.  Google announced their investment in a 52,000 square foot self-driving development center in Novi.  We have the MCity test facility in Ann Arbor.  And just this week, BMW announced their intent to have fully autonomous vehicles on the road in 2021.

In a sign that everyone wants a piece of the action, Rolls Royce has released plans for its Vision Next 100 concept, custom built automobiles that will have autonomous capabilities, all powered by electricity. The voice command system will feature “Eleanor,” named after Eleanor Thornton, the model for the 1911 Spirit of Ecstacy figurine that sits atop all Rolls Royce vehicles. Step aside, Siri.

Things are moving fast, and developers need to keep up, because even the automakers struggle to predict what the “center stack” of the autonomous future will look like and what it will provide. Will dashboards in self-driving cars essentially just become extensions of smartphone content and apps? Will these vehicles be equipped with standard radios like cars have offered as standard equipment for decades? And will passengers in autonomous vehicles be able to consume videos and other visual material as the technology ensures a safe and accident-free ride?

Then there’s the dashboard invaders, led by a couple of small tech companies you may have heard about: Apple and Google. In much the same way the radio industry hops on the hot format bandwagon, the auto industry is no different. Just a couple short years ago, most auto manufacturers were very skeptical of the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto ecosystems. And they were reluctant to even consider them in their proprietary dashboard arrays.

Today, most of these same car makers acknowledge that consumers are much more likely to be loyal to the smartphones in their pockets and their purses, than the cars and trucks in their driveways. Thus, both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are making their way into new cars today, raising more concerns about the way that radio stations and other audio providers maintain visibility in the dashboard. And you’ll be seeing these dashboard ecosystems in advertisements for auto makers, as Audi, Chevrolet, and others are already featuring CarPlay front and center in their TV spots.

If that doesn’t signal a revolution in the auto industry, nothing will. And that’s why we’re continuing to work hard to keep up with and even ahead of these changes.

The next several years promise to be a wild ride for the automotive industry – and of course, for all of us content providers and software developers.  This isn’t a time to slow down and ponder.  It’s a time to lean forward, experiment, take risks, fix, fail, and succeed.  Standing by the side of the road will ensure that you’ll be passed by.

Even in autonomous cars, it’s smart to fasten that seat belt. 


Postscript: We have gotten many questions about dates for DASH this year. After assessing our conference over the past few years, we’ve decided to take a breather for 2016. As today’s post underscores, the auto industry is moving at breakneck speed, necessitating a “growth year” for this conference to ensure its relevance in the future. DASH will be back, perhaps in a different form, rebooted and evolved. You’ll be the first to know about what’s next for the conference. We truly thank past attendees, as well as those of you who wish to attend DASH for the first time.

About MTAM

MTAM is a non-profit trade association for Michigan’s mobile / wireless (connected) technologies industry and businesses in all industries utilizing those technologies. We are the first state-based mobile/wireless industry trade association in the U.S., and our mission is: • to facilitate conversation/collaboration between varied sectors of the mobile/wireless eco-system; serve as the bridge to enable diverse organizations to understand each other’s perspectives and needs in order to drive new innovation and opportunities involving these technologies; • to increase the use of, and demand for, Michigan-based mobile/wireless technology products and services in-state, nationally and globally; • to increase the productivity and profitability of every industry vertical in Michigan via the use of these technologies; • to create sustainable jobs and increased entrepreneurial opportunities in the state based on the use of these technologies, thereby achieving substantial growth of Michigan’s economy; • and to help the communities we serve via the use of these technologies. We are also the statewide producer of Mobile Monday Michigan – a mobile / wireless industry networking and education organization which is a branch of the international Mobile Monday organization based in Finland. Here in Michigan we currently have 4 chapters (Detroit, Ann Arbor, Lansing and Grand Rapids) with over 3000+ members statewide.
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