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Mobile apps coming to a vehicle near you

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The widespread rollout and consumer adoption of mobile broadband has helped drive growth in the applications arena worldwide. Now mobile--that's mobile as in passenger vehicles--is ready to drive growth in a new subcategory of apps designed explicitly for in-vehicle use.

In a study released last month, IMS Research forecasts that within the next five years about 50 percent of all new car radios sold in the North American market will feature downloadable apps. According to IMS, which is now part of IHS, connected head units will represent more than 50 percent of the total new car head unit segment in 2017, and 92 percent of them will feature apps.

It will certainly be interesting to see how the availability of apps might impact consumers' vehicle and device-related purchasing decisions. An IMS survey showed that only 34 percent of consumers would be willing to pay for apps in the car, so it is questionable whether the in-vehicle app business model is a sustainable one. Personally, I'm not interested in ponying up any cash for in-vehicle apps, but I'm also not a big buyer of apps for my smartphone, so I'm clearly not part of car manufacturers' target market for this product category.

But who is? The biggest group of smartphone app users and buyers and users is young adults, but that group is considerably less interested than previous modern generations in buying cars and trucks. According to The Atlantic, CNW Marketing Research reported last year that American adults aged 21 to 34 purchased about a quarter of new cars in 2010, down from 38 percent in 1985. Further the Millennial generation, which includes persons born from 1982 to 2000, is not terribly interested in driving. Less than half of potential drivers age 19 or younger had a driver's license in 2008. In 1998, two-thirds of that group was licensed.

If the biggest bunch of app users is more focused on buying new smartphones and other gadgets rather than shiny new cars, I suspect there could be a notable disconnect in the marketing vision behind selling in-vehicle apps.

Nonetheless, vehicle manufacturers are continuing to push forward with app-based head units, leading IMS to predict that sales of such head units in North America will grow from 2.2 million in 2011 to 11.6 million in 2019. These units will likely feature a combination of OEM-specific and smartphone apps, said IMS.

A number of entities are pursuing the vision of smartphone app integration in vehicles. IMS cites Airbiquity and Livio Connect, in particular. Meanwhile, the Car Connectivity Consortium is trying to boost adoption of the Nokia-developed MirrorLink technology by encouraging developers to create compatible apps that engage consumers without increasing driver distraction.

To learn more about MirrorLink, check out FierceBroadbandWireless' special feature on the CCC and its efforts to establish an ecosystem of smartphone applications for use in cars. Also, if you will be in Las Vegas next week for the International Consumer Electronics Show, be sure to attend the Jan. 8 FierceWireless executive breakfast on embedded wireless devices, which will feature Editor-in-Chief Sue Marek and industry leaders discussing how LTE-enabled tablets, digital homes and connected cars will change the way we work and live.

This leads us to this week's poll, which is available on the FierceBroadbandWireless home page. Would you be willing to pay for downloadable driver-friendly apps in your vehicle? Let us know by voting in our poll and feel free to chime in by commenting online in the section below this column.--Tammy