In February, GM followed up with the announcement that its 2015 Chevrolets, Buicks, GMCs and Cadillacs—vehicles reaching the U.S. and Canadian markets in mid-2014—will be equipped with 4G LTE connectivity from AT&T.
GM called the vehicles "rolling, mobile devices" with their own built-in WiFi hotspots.
While the apps seem a fun add-on, offering entertainment to backseat passengers or a way for drivers to improve their fuel economy, they also offer carmakers an opportunity they take very seriously.
"Your phone isn't like anyone else's and your phone becomes more and more yours over time. We like that model," Greg Ross, GM's director of Product Strategy and Infotainment, Global Connected Consumer, told eWEEK. "For the car business, that creates more flexibility. ... We can offer you something that feels brand-new, even though you have a car that's 2 years old."
A user's applications and preferences could live in the cloud and transfer when a driver buys a new car.
"By being better connected, we have an opportunity to stay in dialogue with [customers], which increases the likelihood that they buy their next car or truck from us," said Ross. "That's the name of the game."
No One Wants Another Data Subscription
One of the last, and possibly trickiest, mobility issues that still need to be addressed is pricing. While car makers and tech companies have been keen to show off their connected technologies over the years, the issue of pricing—how much and who pays—is where conversations come to a screeching halt.
In April, T-Mobile and Audi gave it a tentative try, offering in-car WiFi for $15 a month with a 30-month contract. GM, before its LTE-equipped rollout in mid-2014, will soon have to also attach a price tag to the data.
But GM stands to benefit from its more than a decade of experience with OnStar, the assistance service that has been most drivers' first experience with in-car connectivity.
"One thing we learned from OnStar is that people benefit from trying things out before they're asked to buy," said Ross. "We also realize we need to put the data in context of what you're buying it for. With OnStar, you pay for OnStar service, which happens to include data. Data is a component of the service, not something we ask people to pay for directly."
Another idea is to allow people to buy a connectivity pass. Maybe they're going on a camping trip for the weekend, and want a connection, or they're driving somewhere with a bunch of kids in the back seat. The use case, said Ross, "should be presented overtly, as part of the value of the car."
While most car makers are "just beginning to feel their way toward a pricing strategy, "GM has the benefit of its experiences with its 6 million OnStar customers," said Ross. "We think it's a big opportunity to differentiate ourselves."
When asked about other challenges in this new market, Chris Penrose, senior vice president of AT&T's Emerging Devices organization, pointed to the differences between the industries that are now linking up. The electronics industry seems to advance every quarter. "How do we take that speed of innovation to vehicles, which typically take two to three years' worth of planning?"
Another area that will need to change, he says, is data storage and memory.
"If you want to store your music in your car today, you can't. If you want to download a video to have in the car, for your kids to watch, you can't," Penrose said. The challenge will be to update and innovate the vehicle's design, while offering services that drivers can take advantage of.
Still, such challenges, he suggests, are more like hiccups, compared with the opportunities.
"We think the market is going to explode," said Penrose.
"And this is not just a domestic play for us. We're talking with partners around the world. There's truly an opportunity here to bring forth new services that haven't been thought of yet."