Richly interactive websites are an integral part of the automotive industry. To sell a product as complex and as nuanced as an automobile, requires the use of engaging web technologies such as Flash, DHTML and AJAX. In the past, this would mean sacrificing organic search indexing of the dynamic content presented in these interactive experiences. Due to technical constrains by the search engines they could not see the dynamic content in these experiences and thus not have the ability to affect search ranking by indexing that content. (See Figure 1 at right, which illustrates how typical Flash sites are indexed, showing the exclusion of xml and media content.) The only other option then was paid search to compensate.
In When your car is your phone, which appeared in the Mobile issue of the Headlight blog, I covered phone/car integration and the potential impact of the current mobile-application-development frenzy. I posited that the platform of choice for automakers will likely be the iPhone for two reasons:
Searching for a new car? If so, your search won’t be simplified by the paid search ads on Google, Yahoo or MSN.
Vehicle maintenance is an obscurity for the majority of car owners. The closest auto owners come to feeling in-control of the up-keep is by heeding the oil-change reminder stickers on their windshields – “Take me in for service on 8/23 OR at 24,000 miles.”
Last fall Joseph Smarr, Chief Platform Architect for Plaxo, posted a proposed Bill of Rights for users of the social web that he had co-authored along with Marc Canter, CEO of Broadband Mechanics. Tech heavyweights Michael Arrington and Robert Scoble soon signed on as well. The main tenets of the bill are ownership of our personal information, control of how this personal information is used and the freedom to grant persistent access to this info.
Open is the new closed. Oversharing. TMI. We’ve learned the effects of simple and instantaneous text, image and video publishing. Automotive telematics are poised to create a similar trend for location, yet with these new telematics services comes both a wonderful opportunity and a dangerous scenario for privacy and customer choice.
There have been video games about cars for nearly as long as there has been video games. Even so, for the past 10 years Gran Turismo has stood out among the many racing titles as the game about cars and driving. Gran Turismo was created by Kazunori Yamauchi and developed by Polyphony Digital studios for Sony’s PlayStation gaming console. Over the past 10 years and five versions of the game, Gran Turismo has continued to be polished and refined to create the de facto console-based driving simulator. Polyphony Digital has always worked closely with automakers to get the details of featured cars as close to the real thing as they can be in order to provide a true driving experience.
It seems that phone integration has become something of a grail quest within the automobile industry.
Prior to the release of the iPhone there were rumors circulating that Apple and Volkswagen were planning to collaborate on an “i-Car.” Despite being a brand-match made in heaven, the deal never got off the ground. BMW quickly stepped in to become the first auto maker to support iPhone in-car integration, enabling customers to access their music, contact lists and make hands-free calls via in-car controls.
Since then Ford and Microsoft have introduced Ford SYNC, a voice-activated in-car communications and entertainment system that enables drivers to control their mobile devices and media players (including Apple’s iPod and Microsoft’s Zune) using voice commands, and Nokia has been exploring in-car integration with its branded Ford Mustang concept car that supports multiple N800 Internet Tablets and Renault’s Twingo Nokia Special Edition.
Even as mobile browsing and pageviews among smartphone users have increased substantially in the past year, 89 and 127 percent respectively, according to M:Metrics, the development of mobile automotive sites has not kept pace.
In the U.S. alone there are upward of 250 million mobile phones whose owners would feel naked without them. Combine these sheer audience numbers with the carriers offering more affordable data plans, the improvement in device capabilities and the buzz capturing 3G iPhone, and it would seem to be an ideal time for automotive marketers to find a best friend in mobile advertising. However, the mobile space remains immensely complex and while innovations are starting to pave the way for deep brand experiences, automotive marketers will need to spend the next 12 to 18 months experimenting and optimizing mobile ideas.