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(Not) A Game Changer

Guest blog by Fred Jacobs of Jacobs Media Fred will moderate the “The Connected Car - Dash to the Future” super session at Canadian Music Week’s Radio Interactive Summit 2014.

I’ve held off on writing about Apple’s CarPlay for one key reason.  Whenever there’s a technical breakthrough – especially when it comes from Cupertino – there’s a rush to be first, to analyze it, to philosophize about it, and to pronounce it as “a game-changer.”

Apple’s CarPlay may, in fact, change the way that consumers connect their iPhones to their cars.  Like many things Apple does, it should simplify the process and make it more elegant.  This is necessary because something as simple as pairing one’s phone in “connected cars” can be as difficult to solve as a Rubik’s Cube.  But even if CarPlay is as sweeping a development as some claim it to be with supposed massive implications for radio, the reality is that it will take time for this new telematics innovation to play out and be absorbed by the main players involved.  This is, after all, the auto industry, and things don’t just start changing overnight.

So rather than taking a screaming BREAKING NEWS! approach – like CNN or Fox News would – to this big “connected car” story, let’s step back and take more of a considered, analytical, and thoughtful point of view – like NPR would.

By the way, the first thing you might have noticed is that it’s called CarPlay – not CarWork.  This is fun stuff – being able to easily port the content in your iPhone over to your Mercedes.  As the automakers always say, it is all about a great driving experience, and Apple obviously shares that sentiment.

Given the difficulty that consumers have faced with telematics and the “connected car” (and the J.D. Power ratings bear that out), this can only be a good thing.  At The Radio Show (and subsequent presentations), Strategy Analytics’ Roger Lanctot has shown his company’s tests that challenge consumers to “find radio” the first time they plop down in the seat of a “connected car.”

Sometimes it’s funny, but mostly it’s a reminder that there’s no standardization in this industry.  And while part of Apple’s mindset is to provide a simple, direct, and familiar interface with your dashboard, none of this works with the “other 50%” – Android devices.  And so Google is racing to accomplish some the same things with its platform.  This was a topic at DASH and an event that has since come true, as both behemoths – Google and Apple – are angling for real estate in the dash.  That should affirm for you just how big a space this is and will be.

As the Apple vs. Google drama that has played out with phones and tablets now migrates to the “center stack,” automakers now are left to grapple with the implications.  And while it would be easy to rush to conclusions now, this is something that will need to sort itself out over the coming months and even years.  Some OEMs will jump right in, while others will assess and perhaps choose to stay with their own models and architectures.

Apple has made it simple for consumers to easily adjust to new things because of their standardization – whether it’s their apps, their font, their Siri, and all their other features.  Once you’ve learned how to use your iPhone, there’s no adjustment to using an iPad.  Or now the dashboard in the Volvo S60.

For radio, nothing’s changed.  Consumers have been able to pair their phones with their cars since the advent of AUX IN jacks, the leap to Bluetooth, and then embedded apps in the center stack.

The real reminder from Apple’s expected-yet-surprise announcement on Monday is that every radio company should have its own “connected car” go-to person, and every cluster should have a designated sales marketing rep to accommodate and serve the auto community as things move quickly.  In short, a mobile and “connected car” strategy is rapidly become table stakes.

Anyone who tells you that Apple’s announcement is game-set-match or checkmate for radio (or a big boon for Pandora or anyone else) has no idea what they’re talking about.  Like all of consumer electronics and technological innovations, the only given is that there are no givens.

It’s another reason why there will be a second DASH conference in October.  Because for radio, the automotive industry, HD radio, and all the other players in this drama, there will continue to be debate, the need for continued learning, new partnerships, and opportunities for company CEOs and managers who recognize what’s up for grabs here.

The challenge for radio remains the same – how to make its brands ubiquitous in cars, how to provide a seamless streaming experience, how to ensure its visual presentation on dashboards is on a par with Pandora, SiriusXM, and iPods.  Don’t let others scare or alarm you about Apple’s new telematics solution for cars.  Use it as motivation to address the key challenges that radio brands space in the rapidly changing “center stack.”

And what is it about your content that will make consumers want to seek you out, above and beyond the infinite choices they now have when they get behind the wheel?  What’s your why?  What are consumers hiring radio to do while they drive - and is radio delivering?

At jacAPPS, we can design and build you great apps, and now Apple has made it easier to connect your iPhone – at least in some vehicles.

But the hard part – mapping out and building your proprietary, local, personality-driven essence; the qualities and attributes that make you different, unique, and great – well, that’s on you.

So is CarPlay a game changer?

Nope.  Same game.  Now just a little easier for some consumers to play.

The big story is that Apple has reaffirmed the importance of the “connected car.”

Now the ball’s back in our court.

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Fred Jacobs is the founder and president of Jacobs Media, the largest radio consulting firm in the United States specializing in Rock formats. The company, formed in 1983, created the Classic Rock format, and has been a leading force in Alternative and Mainstream Rock. Currently, Jacobs Media services are used by nearly every major broadcasting company, including Entercom, Cox, Greater Media, Journal, and others. Recently, Fred co-presented “Radio & The Connected Car” at the Radio Show with industry maven Roger Lanctot. And this past October, Jacobs Media partnered with Radio Ink and Valerie Shuman to produce DASH, the first-ever radio and automotive “connected car” conference.

Fred’s mobile app company, JacAPPS (JAKE-apps) has been at the forefront of connecting radio with the mobile revolution. In five years, the company has developed 800 apps that have generated nearly 20 million downloads. In 2013, JacAPPS entered into a partnership with the Ford Motor Company to adapt apps for compatibility in the SYNC AppLink system.
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