Ford got a lot of buzz at CES last week with new updates to its SYNC platform, but the most interesting announcement to me was word of an update to the SYNC Destinations app. Users can now enter a destination on the iPhone (or Android or Blackberry device later this quarter) and push it directly to Ford’s in-car navigation system. The app is powered by Inrix, and it illustrates the value of connecting user input from outside the car with an interface and real-time data available inside the car. Ford and Inrix claim this is the first application to connect a smartphone with in-car GPS, but given the utility of this particular machine-to-machine communication, it certainly won’t be the last.
In addition to the updated Destinations app, Ford also announced the new SYNC AppLink service at CES, giving users voice control over certain navigation functions. Drivers can call for real-time traffic reports and turn-by-turn directions without touching a button. Users can also report traffic incidents to the Sync community, supplementing Inrix’s data with real-time user input. The AppLink service is available in select Ford 2012 model cars.
Traffic is big business, and, as local newscasters have known for decades, a big draw for Americans who spend an inordinate amount of time in their cars. Inrix has been on my radar for a couple of years now. The company is not only collecting valuable data today, it’s creating an infrastructure of data inputs that will be hard to match in a few years time if the company does its job right.
And Inrix has the potential to be valuable to far more than just consumers too. Transit authorities, law enforcement and government budgeting offices could all benefit from Inrix data. Just note this story in the Seattle Times from January 8th. Inrix was able to report on the impact of new highway tolls on local traffic congestion and average vehicle speeds. The DOT’s comments on the news were decidedly indifferent, but that’s a short-sighted response. In the future, Inrix data (and traffic data from other sources including Navteq and Google) could be critical for transportation planning, community development and more.