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10 January 2017

CES 2017: All wireless energies are channelled to the connected car

If anyone doubted that the smartphone’s heyday was over, they only needed to attend the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas last week to see proof that the mobile chip and platform providers are desperately in search of the next goldmine. A few smartphone launches barely grazed the headlines, while the giants of the mobile device world talked of anything but handsets.

The markets which they hope will offset the slowdown in smartphone growth are predictable – the most-heard acronyms in 2017 were the same as at CES 2016 – IoT (Internet of Things), AI (artificial intelligence), VR (virtual reality), and so on. But the vendors are starting to focus more on specific products and commercial launches, not just on big ideas, as the end of the smartphone era looms close. And with the business models undefined in so many areas of the IoT, many of those real world promises centered on the most mature of the consumer-facing ‘connected things’ sectors, the smart car.

Wirelessly connected cars and the road to the autonomous vehicle were huge themes at CES. As in the early days of the smartphone, there is an intensifying battle among suppliers to drive and define the chips and the software platforms for the connected car. However, by contrast with the situation in 2007 and 2008, there is no single vendor which has stuck its flag in the ground, as Apple did, and defined the terms of the debate for everyone else. There are well-established automotive players, such as NXP in chips, and Here in maps, which are expanding their offerings for the broader connected car market; and there are new entrants, moving sideways from the smartphone sector, like Qualcomm, or the PC, like Intel.

But there is no single market maker. The connected car is a multi-faceted beast, embracing in-vehicle infotainment (IVI), safety, assisted or autonomous driving, advanced navigation and other capabilities. Yet the large players know that, as in the mobile world, if they can drive an overall framework which ties all these functions, and technologies from many vendors, together, they will achieve the greatest power and profit potential.