In-Car App Stores: Another software goldrush

The Apple App Store was a wild place back in 2008. 

It seemed like every week there was a brand-new killer app taking the market by storm, turning the heads of users and investors alike with some new piece of functionality. This was a time when the app ‘I Am Rich’, where users could pay $1000 to be simply told they were rich, actually managed to sell and make a profit. 

It was the app goldrush, and we might be about to experience it all over again. 

Last week, Car Magazine published an article detailing a new feature in the BMW 5-series, where users must pay to unlock certain automatic functions and apps within their cars, such as ‘high beam assist’ which uses machine learning to identify oncoming traffic and dip the driver’s headlights to avoid dazzling drivers. 

We want to talk about what these stores and features could mean for the automotive industry, and how we think this could result in another software goldrush. 

What are in-car app stores? 

An in-car app store is an aspect of many in-car infotainment platforms, allowing users to buy new apps for their car. 

Previously, this has been limited to voice-based trivia games and a few location-based apps and guides – but with the BMW 5-series, we’ve seen something new: the ability to unlock functionality within a vehicle through a purchase. Some of the purchases users can currently make include:

  • BMW Drive Recorder – An app that records footage through the sensors of the car to give the user a film of their journey.
  • IconicSounds Sport – An app that enhances the noises being produced by the engine.
  • Concierge Service – A subscription service to a call centre that will guide drivers to whatever destination they require, including ATMs and toilets, wherever they are in the world. 

Both BMW Drive Recorder and IconicSounds Sport directly interface with the hardware of the vehicle to offer a new driving experience. Taken to a logical conclusion, following the evolution of mobile apps that used the hardware of the phone to create new functionality, this could create an in-car app store where users can unlock or change aspects of their vehicle through in-car purchases. These could include:

  • Different driving modes – A digital reformatting of a vehicle to make it feel sportier, quieter or more comfortable could be sold, with competitors offering subtly different reformats. Taken a step further, companies could offer reformatting in the style of famous vehicles from films such as the Batmobile, Marty McFly’s Delorean or Nightrider.
  • Heated seats and massages – With seats able to deliver different temperatures to different parts of the driver’s and passenger’s bodies, it’s easy to see how an app could offer a bespoke heated seat massage that could even be tailored to particular situations, like post-workout or reducing stress whilst stuck in traffic. 
  • Cosmetic changes – From tinting windows to changing interior and exterior lighting, there are plenty of changes that an app could make to offer a specific experience. 
  • Data-driven experiences – By using the on-board telemetry sensors, an app could check everything from how much the user drives like an F1 champion to how much their driving is affecting their emissions. 

There’s a rabbit hole of possible marketable experiences – these are just a handful. 

However, the other aspect of a software goldrush is money; there will be no point developing apps for these platforms unless customers are willing to pay for them.

Our work in automotive

Learn more about Apadmi's work with Lexus, Land Rover and more.

The in-car app development business model

You may have noticed that we didn’t discuss BMW’s concierge service to the same extent as the other features in the last section – that’s because the service is the key to the entire in-car app boom. 

The concierge service is a subscription that BMW drivers pay for monthly. We’ve seen how subscription models have taken off in the video streaming market, even in the Apple App Store with Apple Arcade, and we believe this model could apply to the automotive sector. 

Both Apple and Google have created platforms for use in vehicles (Apple Carplay and Android Auto) and we can see these currently-free services extending into wider full-car platforms, with Netflix-like subscription models that allow drivers to pay for a subscription to make their car feel more fun, sportier or more comfortable.

Of course, pay-as-you-go could also work with a model similar to the current app stores, but we think that many of these experiences may be more costly than current apps to create and maintain, as there will need to be contingencies for many different types of vehicles with different hardware. Just developing for the Apple App Store in 2008, there’s going to be a learning curve to overcome through collaboration within the development community. 

Where do we go from here?

The market for in-car apps is just starting to develop. There are still lots of questions to be answered, including which platforms to develop for and the limitations of design without distracting the driver – not to mention autonomous vehicles and the potential they could hold within the market. 

That being said, there is an opportunity here, for some in-car apps to reach the scale of Spotify, Netflix and Whatsapp. By investing now with a bold idea and the right execution, your business could be at the start of something incredible. 

If you would like to discuss in-car apps and how Apadmi could help your business on its next automotive project, get in touch below. 

Share article
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin