By inking deals with Audi, General Motors, Tesla and Volvo, AT&T has accelerated efforts to become the dominant mobile carrier in the car. But the consumer adoption of AT&T’s in-vehicle 4G LTE connectivity will depend largely on pricing – and whether drivers want to pay for another data plan just for their cars.
So after announcing that it was bringing its Mobile Share Value plan to GM’s vehicles earlier this year so that drivers can divide data the way they, say, share filling the tank with fuel, AT&T today unveiled a similar strategy with Audi. Previously AT&T announced two limited-data pricing plans for the 2015 Audi A3. But now the wireless carrier is making its Mobile Share Value plan available for the A3 and well as the S3 variant and Q3 crossover starting in October.
“We’re announcing today that the cost for connecting these Audi models to a Mobile Share Value plan is the same as a tablet – an additional $10 for the access charge per month,” Chris Penrose, AT&T Mobility’s senior VP, Emerging Devices, wrote in a blog post today. Audi and A&T also announced a new $20 per month plan for 1GB of data in addition to the previous 5GB/6-month plan for $99 and a 30 GB/30-month plan for $499.
Getting 4G into the car will enable more and faster services, including access to apps. Before today’s Audi announcement, the C3 Report spoke with Penrose about a new suite of car-centric, cloud-connected, voice-controlled apps that will be part of AT&T’s Drive platform. And how this can benefit carmakers, app developers and ultimately consumers.
C3 Report: Looking at some of the apps AT&T announced – and considering that some are already part of the current automotive app ecosystem – how will these apps integrate with existing OEM apps? Or are you going after OEMs that don’t already have these apps?
Penrose: A lot of the app providers have gone directly to the OEMs to get their apps built into vehicles. Everyone has kind of a custom [approach], and you’ve got different automobile manufacturers in different states as far as which apps they’re offering. What we’re trying to do with the Drive Platform is take the heavy lifting off the app developers and off the car companies.
What we’ve built with Drive is an application delivery platform that can serve a variety of applications that have been designed specifically for the vehicle. The user interfaces, have all been completely speech-enabled. And if there are billing capabilities with these applications, we have billing integrated.
App providers get the benefit of building it out once on our platform and having it distributed among multiple OEMs. And this not mirroring applications; these are a totally custom designs. Looking at it from a safety standpoint and trying to minimize distractions, they’re all speech-enabled. IHeartRadio is out there for the first time ever speech enabled on our product.
C3 Report: Would the voice enabling be done through the automakers existing voice recognition interface?
Penrose: It can be done that way. We’ve also speech enabled everything inside Drive Platform vehicles with a partnership we have with Voicebox and our own Watson speech engine. So all that work’s been done to make these apps speech enabled. But if we need to work with other solutions with the automobile partners, if they want to go with a different voice solution, then we can do that.
C3 Report: So manufacturers would essentially be buying an entire suite of apps?
Penrose: That’s right. Each OEM would be able to pick and choose what they want to serve up. There can be applications that are very specific for them. With the Drive Platform, the applications are all stored in the cloud. So when you buy Drive, there’s a thin client that goes in the head unit but it’s actually going out to the cloud to interact with these applications. And these applications can be constantly kept up to date and it takes such a minor load on the processing power inside the vehicle so you can scale it domestically and globally. It’s a very different approach that we’re taking, which will really makes it easy for automobile manufacturers to integrate with Drive.
In conjunction with Drive, there’s an application store where a customer can go in and buy applications and download it that way. But the cloud will be continually keeping all the updates fresh and we will be doing a ton of work with the automobile partner’s firmware updates. Firmware over-the-air updates is a huge opportunity. We will take all our knowledge with smartphones and tablets and are now partnering with automakers on how we can help update vehicles and make vehicles better versus day one of ownership.
C3 Report: Why did you pick these apps?
Penrose: We’ve been working on this for the last year, and have done a lot of research and had a lot of discussions with our automobile partners about different applications that are meaningful inside the vehicle. And we don’t think you need a hundred applications inside the vehicle. You need the ones that are most relevant to the driving experience. Music is huge so that’s why IHeartRadio is one of the first ones. You wouldn’t think weather is that big of a deal, but it tests very well. Stitcher has the ability to deliver content as you want it and News Feed has one-minute sound bites about the key news stories of the day. And Glympse from a delivery perspective of “Where am I” and parking location is very important. We’ve got a whole bunch more that we’re not ready to announce yet, but we’re really prioritizing based upon the research and what our partners are saying are the most important functionalities that people want inside the vehicle. And we’re working with the partners to bring those to bear.