Driving Digital Identity Forward - Amazon's Alexa and the Connected Car

At CES this year, there were no less than five separate announcements of how Alexa was being integrated into automobiles. This was another step in Amazon’s strategy of putting Alexa, as VentureBeat explained, “everywhere: ubiquitous, omnipresent, and all-knowing, like some AI god.”

Toyota/Lexus, Garmin, and Panasonic were among those at CES who premiered Alexa as a feature of their vehicles or connected car hardware. The most significant inroad may have debuted when Ford revealed Alexa would be available through their SYNC® 3 AppLink™ system. This includes making it a feature on the best-selling vehicle in the United States, the Ford F-150 truck.

Putting Amazon's Alexa in the Driver’s Seat

If you envision an F-150 driver using Alexa to order up a few hard hats and some après-demolition brownies from Amazon, you’re not alone. It’s a possibility that strikes fear in the hearts of other retailers. Perhaps “possibility” is too tame a word: Amazon’s penchant for relentless, almost martial execution suggests it’s more of an inevitability, doesn’t it?

Everything we’ve seen in retail makes clear how Amazon’s ability to disrupt entire categories may soon be in full bloom in the automotive world. Automakers already depend on telemetrics and in-car digital technologies to stand out on the showroom floor.  Remote keyless systems are commonplace, as are smartphone apps controlling features like programmable comfort settings, GPS, and in-vehicle infotainment (IVI). Connected cars also submit data on location, RPM, speed, mission-critical ECU failures, and diagnostic functions to the automaker’s back-end. Streaming music and video will soon be widespread, and new standards such as automotive Ethernet are near at hand.

In fact, automakers depend on these advances so much that the balance of power has shifted markedly away from them.  Decades ago, an electronics OEM such as a Panasonic or an Alpine vied earnestly for a place on the options list for that Camaro or Taurus. Today, the lack of CarPlay availability on Toyota vehicles proved problematic enough it was the carmaker who had to bend to Apple’s power among consumers.

Suprised, Detroit Needs to Raise Their Game

Detroit giants, like GM with the OnStar system, pioneered the connected car. But it’s definitely been Silicon Valley players who envisioned the full disruptive potential of the connected car, and have subsequently forced incumbents players to up their games. Tesla has led the caravan down the road ahead, where changes are happening at autobahn speeds. The notion of over-the-air (OTA) updates to a car’s OS and feature sets, and other techniques standardized over many year in the tech sector, is just one of many strategies that has given Tesla a unique advantage over legacy car brands. The true disruption wasn’t the technology, however, but the application of the entrepreneurial, first-mover mentality native to Silicon Valley.

Today, automakers are enthusiastically imitating or co-opting the Apples, Googles, and other tech kingpins in as many ways as they can gin up. Witness a “subscription” program such as Care By Volvo, aimed at consumers accustomed to buying or swapping out personal electronics at will. No wonder auto execs and their P.R. reps have stressed comparisons between these programs and smartphone plans.

As the connected car - or  “New Mobility” - matures, with connected cars and the smart cities they traffic acting as nodes in digital networks, the transformation from the older models of car development and ownership to new forms will gather steam. The media focuses on innovators like Tesla, Uber, and Lyft as the “Disruptors Most Likely” to supplant GM, Ford, Honda, et al. Yet the whip hand may actually no longer belong to any of them. Mobility services will be built on personalization – and digital identity.

Consider the strengths of smart home and social platform players now entering the automotive space, such as the aforementioned Amazon and Microsoft, Google, even Facebook.  These are companies built on understanding and leveraging consumer behaviors; selling hardware is secondary to profiting by deeper and longer engagement. This is what may give them a profound advantage over other entrants in the New Mobility race.

The Alexa digital assistant in your truck’s dashboard may be able to power an intensely personalized user experience; who is to say an entire Alexamobile won’t someday provide the very same level of personalization, shaping itself to every user who slides into the driver’s seat?  The Fords and BMWs of the world understand this, and they’re striving to partner with these platforms, or find ways to outpace or outflank them.

This why digital identity will be a vital cornerstone of the New Mobility. To deliver true personalization, transportation providers will have to recognize, serve, and safeguard the individual identity and preferences of every “mobility device” user.  In our next post in this series, we’ll examine the various, often competing visions being proposed for the future of mobility services, and the mushrooming role digital identity plays in every one of them.

Ed. Note: Thanks to Beki Hall Scarbrough - VP, Integrated Marketing & Demand Generation - for igniting this post.