Still other benefits are that the cars could encourage more ridesharing (and thus decrease pollution), and create new opportunities for people with limited mobility.
Currently, 10 percent of vehicles include built-in connectivity. Parks Associates has forecast that by 2017, 47 percent of new vehicles will include embedded cellular modules by 2017. In a June report, Telefonica Digital cited Machina Research, which expects that by 2020, that figure will rise to 90 percent.
The connected car, futurist Ian Pearson said in the report, will have an "almost unimaginable transformational impact on our driving experience."
Connected Cars: The Opportunities
Driverless cars, while something of an end goal, are also an extreme on the spectrum of opportunity the connected car market represents.
Jonathan Horvath, director of Enterprise Product Management at Smith Micro, a company he describes, in a nutshell, as "experts in mobility," ticks through a list of industries that stand to benefit (tremendously) from the connected car market.
The automakers are an obvious start.
"The average lifecycle of an app is two or three months. The average lifecycle of a phone is 12 to 24 months. But the average lifecycle of a car is five to 10 years," said Horvath. Automakers are trying to figure out how to "refresh a car, offer an updated experience," he said, adding that over-the-air updates, made possible through high-speed Long Term Evolution (LTE) connections, are an answer.
Automakers are also looking forward to the cost benefits the latter will bring. Maintaining the computers in cars is a high-ranking expense: Service centers include costs for rent, upkeep, equipment, staff salaries and benefits. Plus, when a driver brings a car in for one thing, a dealer will typically suggest five other things that can be repaired under the warranty.
"As a consumer, you love it. And the dealership likes it [because it strengthens the relationship]. But the home office doesn't love it, because they're paying," said Horvath. A car that's connected can be updated and refreshed at a time that's convenient to the driver, and in a way that provides the carmaker with considerable savings.
Companies in navigation, infotainment, streaming movies, games, voice activation, the LTE network providers, companies working on hotspot 2.0 technologies and even the LED manufacturers, will all have major roles in the connected car business, Horvath continued.
"It's only a matter of time before those flexible, bendable screens are in cars—your windshield could be an LED screen," said Horvath. "Instead of having a physical rear-view mirror, you could have a section of windshield with a zero-blind-spot rear-view perspective built in."
And in the back seat, maybe the rear windows could be screens on which your kids could watch movies, he adds. "There are tons of opportunities for all kinds of people."
Horvath said he's seen demos in which a driver gets out at the office door and the car goes off into a parking structure and parks itself. Someone also showed him a car that, sensing aggravating, stop-and-go traffic, can offer to take over.
"He told me, 'My wife can tell when I drove home in traffic, versus when I let the car drive home for me.'"
Applications for the Rolling, Mobile Device
In January, General Motors made publically available a software development kit (SDK) with an application programming interface (API) that developers can use to build add-ons for the infotainment systems in its vehicles. (Historically, only select designers have had access to the API.)
GM encouraged developers to create "relevant, customizable and seamlessly integrated automotive apps," and has made a point of the scarcity in the current car-app market: While a new smartphone app is likely to be overlooked in overly crowded app stores, car apps have plenty of space to be noticed (particularly by a captive audience, given the average 90 minutes that drivers spend in their cars each day).