Product Managers Prepare To Battle For The Inside Of Your Car

A battle is brewing for your car's dashboard screen
A battle is brewing for your car’s dashboard screen
Image Credit: may bird

If you think about it, all of the screens in your life have already been claimed by someone. Your PC screen is owned by either Microsoft or Apple. Your phone screen is owned by either Google or Apple. The list goes on. Right now there is really only one screen that is still up for grabs. Which screen is this you ask? It’s the screen that is on the dashboard of your car. However, even as you read this, product managers are scrambling to try to win over this one last remaining unclaimed screen.

The Final Screen

Both the auto industry and Silicon Valley are currently locked in a battle for control of one of the last unconquered screens out there: your car dashboard display. At stake in this battle are billions of dollars in revenue from ads and services as well as the balance of power between two big industries. Oh yeah, there is also the future of the dash itself, a source of endless complaints from drivers frustrated by its glitchy concoction of buttons and technologies. The car makers who are trying to overcome this poor track record, are counting on these few square inches to help build closer relationships with customers. Some fear that they may end up handing control to Silicon Valley. Alphabet and Apple, meanwhile, are itching to put their familiar screens and apps inside vehicles just like they have done with so many other products.

Right now the current state of play is a confused free-for-all as the two industries circle each other with little trust. Some car makers are giving in and turning over their dashboard operating systems to Alphabet’s Google entirely. Others, including Ford Motor Co. and Daimler AG , think that they can muster the technological chops to compete. Volvo’s new Polestar electric-car brand will be the first to have a dash system that runs completely on Google’s new car operating system, giving it a feel very much like an Android phone. Alternatively, GM has developed an in-dash system that includes a commerce platform where users can pre-order from Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks. It also has the ability to locate a nearby ExxonMobil station.

The average American driver spends roughly 51 minutes a day in the car. This means that they are a literal captive audience. On future car dashboard screens, local restaurants, doctors’ offices and other services could target ads based on typical driving routes. For example, an insurance company could offer lower rates for cautious drivers, while car makers could use system data to offer service on an aging car part before it fails. Some product managers envision a world where users could start watching a TV show at home, then with a voice command continue watching the same program in the car. Others are working on allowing users to order and pay for gasoline and coffee on their screens.

The Future Of Car Dashboards

It is estimated that these data-driven products could create as much as US$750 billion in new revenue by 2030, including from location-based advertisements and predictive car maintenance. Product managers see this as the battle for the fourth screen, after the television, computer and the mobile phone. Car infotainment systems have frequently exasperated customers. Auto maker product managers are starting with a natural disadvantage. New car models were designed and engineered several years ago and customers tend to hold on to their cars longer than they do phones. Car companies have been reluctant to spend money on expensive electronics, and many older car displays were never designed to be updated.

Beyond Apple and Google, there are other tech companies who are working to get their offerings incorporated into car systems. An example of this is Samsung Electronics, the world’s largest smartphone maker by sales, who purchased auto-supplier Harman International Industries for $8 billion two years ago to get its hardware into cars. Harman has showed that it can integrate video screens and user experiences in the car at the annual CES tech show. Microsoft is also edging in, providing auto makers such as Volkswagen and BMW with unique cloud-based services that help them beam down new apps and software to a car. is in the midst of rolling out its Alexa voice assistant in BMW, Toyota and Volkswagen models, though it’s currently limited in what it can do.

Google’s push into the car is part of a larger strategy to provide more services and content across platforms. This all started with its 2005 purchase of the Android operating system. This ecosystem is what allows customers access to their digital lives on different screens and helped Google generate an estimated $82 billion in mobile advertising revenue last year. The Google product managers have realized that, just as they did with the mobile phone, to make that transition easy they need to have a common platform in the car. The launch of self-driving vehicles in the coming years has the possibility of bringing even more screens into the car, both on and off the dashboard, as passengers get more time to work, shop or watch movies on the road instead of driving.

What All Of This Means For You

Our lives are dominated by the screens that we spend most of our day staring at. No matter if it’s the television, the laptop screen or our mobile phone, they hold our attention for the better part of each day. Product managers have come to realize that there may be one more screen that is still up for grabs: the screen that is built into our car’s dashboard. Now the big question is who is going to win this valuable real estate?

Car manufactures and high-tech firms are locked in battle to see who can walk away a winner over the battle for car dashboards. Right now both Google and Apple are offering car dashboard solutions. Some car manufactures are selecting to use these solutions. However, other car manufactures are opting to go it alone and create their own dashboard solutions. Drivers spend a lot of time in their cars and whoever wins the battle to control the dashboard will have access to a driver while they are in the car. Car manufacturer product managers are starting this battle at a disadvantage because today’s cars were designed several years ago. The battle to control a car’s dashboard is not limited to just Apple or Google – there are other technology firms that would like to get into this market. Google’s product managers see the car’s dashboard as a natural extension of the phone screen.

It is not often that product managers have the opportunity to compete in a new battlefield. However, the arrival of a fourth screen that is built into a car’s dashboard has opened a brand-new market. There are a number of very large and powerful companies that all want to dominate this new screen. However, the jury is still out on who will eventually show up in all of our cars. Product managers need to take the time to listen to what their customers are telling them in order to create a solution that will be adopted by everyone. If they can get this right, then they’ll be able to own what goes on inside of our cars.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: How closely do you think that a car dashboard should be tied to phone screens?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

If you were looking for an exciting product manager job, then being a product manager at the European aircraft company Airbus would probably be a safe bet. Airbus is always locked in battle with the U.S. firm Boeing and both companies sell hundreds of their large airplanes to airlines around the world. At the start of this century Airbus introduced their biggest bet on the future so far, the A380, and now it looks like their product managers were wrong about a number of things and that’s making everyone look bad.