Wearable Tech World Feature Article
February 04, 2014

In-vehicle Wearable Technology Integration with New Autos Will Scale to Over 90 Percent Global Penetration by 2019

It is certainly a compelling story when you hear that a certain technology, whatever it may be, will achieve a 90 percent penetration rate. In fact, as statistics go, that is hugely compelling. Now that we’ve gotten beyond the 90 percent there is a question that then goes begging: what exactly is it we mean by “in-vehicle wearable tech integration with new cars” anyway? It is a fair question to ask. And ABI Research, which is the research firm making the 90 percent forecast has an answer for us.

As ABI defines it, in-vehicle wearable integration is the latest trend in automotive. ABI believes there is a very logical correlation between what has now been achieved with in-vehicle smartphone integration, and what will likely be achieved with wearable form-factors.  Wearable tech will inevitably interface – directly or via phones – with new vehicles, and ABI believes the combination will be compelling enough to achieve a 90 percent penetration rate over the next five years.

ABI’s forecast is provided through and based on ABI Research’s Automotive Infotainment Research Service, which provides detailed installed base and forecasts of the car infotainment market.

ABI suggests that a growing number of announcements that associates wearable tech with in-vehicle services is a clear marker for where the future is headed here. The research firm refers to such announcements as Harman’s ADAS Google Glass integration, Hyundai’s Blue Link Glassware application, Mercedes Benz’ new Pebble smart watch Digital DriveStyle application, BMW’s i3 EV Samsung Galaxy Gear smart watch integration, Nissan’s Nismo concept smart watch displaying biometric and vehicle diagnostics and performance data, and INRIX’s real-time traffic Google Glass demo app.

Just to name a few. These are all substantial names on the automotive side, and the products being announced are unequivocally centered on wearable tech – albeit wearable tech of the very obvious kind (it doesn’t get more obvious than a Pebble smartwatch of Google Glass, does it?). These announcements certainly do foretell that there will be a surge in more such product integrations – but they do not necessarily tell us anything in terms of how the buying public will react to them as either can’t live without them features or clear cut differentiators. Will customers both bite and buy?

ABI strongly suggests that the answer is yes. We certainly don’t disagree, though we’re not convinced the buying public in and of itself go out of its way to seek out these features. Rather, auto makers will implement them as solutions in search of solving problems and wait for consumers to simply adopt them and adapt to their use as an inevitable flow of nature.

Today’s young people - who represent a very serious flow of discretionary income over the next five years - are certainly going to look at vehicle-integrated wearable tech not as something to be desired (that is, nice to have) but as something to be demanded (that is, must have). As more and more next generation buyers enter the market for new autos, wearable tech integration will indeed become a fully integrated piece of the automotive landscape. It may take until 2024 rather than 2019 but it will happen.

But is it Dangerous?

There is one minor fly in the proverbial ointment. The use of certain types of wearable technology in cars – by which we mean Google Glass and other augmented reality heads up displays and smartglasses - is already a somewhat controversial issue. Many U.S. state governments and the federal government in the United Kingdom are concerned about safety, and at least three states and the whole of the U.K. have already passed legislation banning eyewear is.

There are plenty of legitimate reasons for such concern, but there is a problem in being able to prove that there is indeed such a problem. There is also an issue of law enforcement officials being able to prove that, say Google Glass was turned on by the driver of an automobile. The very first such case cropped up don in San Diego, CA about 6 months ago, when a state highway trooper pulled over a lady by the name of Cecilia Abadie for wearing a pair of Google Glass. We’ve covered that story elsewhere and don’t have the room to re-tell it here, but suffice it to say the case was thrown out of court – you will need to read the original article to get the details.

In the case of smart glasses there will need to be a consensus viewpoint emerge that states the Google Glass eyewear format (this goes for other smart glass developers and vendors) is not an issue. The real issue comes down to use cases built around what a driver should not be doing while wearing such devices and driving. For example, how about watching videos while driving? Not a good idea! But how can a highway trooper prove such a thing?

The odds are not in favor of being able to do so. In the absence of such a capability the only alternative becomes one of banning their use so that a trooper doesn’t have to prove anything at all. Cecilia Abadie’s ticker was issued along these lines but the truth is that at the time of the ticketing there was in fact no law that provides exactly this prohibition. Ultimately it came down to whether or not anyone could prove that Abadie’s Google Glass set was in fact turned out.

A preemptive strike would sort of fixes the problem but the fix also means that very useful capabilities – such as eyewear functioning as dash cams or for displaying blind spots or collision safety alerts that would in fact contribute to safer driving would also fall by the wayside. The saying goes, better that 100 guilty people go free than to have even one innocent person jailed. How the states ultimately solve this dilemma – and whether or not a compromise between benefit and danger cab be found, remains to be seen and it will affect both users and the devices themselves.

ABI VP and practice director, Dominique Bonte notes that, “With in-car infotainment becoming a key customer proposition, the automotive industry is designing user interfaces that offer both a rich and convenient experience and that guarantee safety by preventing driver distraction. While head unit proximity touch screens, heads up displays and speech recognition are now well established, the quest for next-generation automotive HMI is still on with gesture recognition, eye control and augmented reality edging closer to implementation. At the same time, wearable form-factors are being explored bearing testimony to the automotive industry’s objective to keep up with consumer electronics innovation. But they also contribute to creating a seamless digital user experience inside and outside the vehicle.”

Of course smart glasses are but one of myriad types of wearable tech that will find its way into autos. Will they be enough to offset Google Glass if the devices are banned?

What ultimately happens in the U.K. and at the U.S. state level is key here. ABI believes they will ultimately have to stay out of the way and will do so immediately, leaving automakers free to drive adoption by 2019. We ourselves believe that number is much closer to 2024.

Check back with us then!

For more information do check out ABI’s Automotive Infotainment Research Service.

Edited by Cassandra Tucker

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