Friday, September 16, 2011

Connected Cars Coming to a Showroom Near You

Are you worried about getting into an accident with a distracted driver talking on a cell phone?  Well coming soon you may have to be concerned about motorists who are browsing the web, searching for closestor even check the latest stock quotes. The next big market for auto industry is the connected car. Automakers are now featuring internet enabled models at recent car shows and researchers predict that 90% of new cars will ship with connected car features within the next five years.

The times are long past when car shows reeked of motor oil and car enthusiasts were obsessed with engine power and sleek designs. With the aid of telematics and M2M (machine to machine) wireless internet access, automobile makers believe the car of the future will no longer be just a vehicle, but an extension of the home or workplace, where drivers will have access to emails and keep up-to-date on their social networks even on the road.

German manufacturer BMW already offers ConnectedDrive and BMW Assist which provides an onboard computer with internet access where drivers can locate the closest restaurant, the nearest ATM or free parking space in a matter of clicks. And rival Mercedes Benz is not to be outdone, either: its new Mbrace built-in computer allows drivers to unlock doors using their mobile phones, avoid jams using local traffic data, find your car in a crowded parking lot and even surf the web.

Even budget automakers like Hyundai are offering connected car features. Hyundai offers the Blue Link system in the popular Sonata allows voice recognition software to dictate text messages. Toyota has its version called Entune, which will reach the dealerships this fall links with smartphones and offers on-screen information and weather. Ford's Sync system lets you listen to text messages and send automated replies. In its new concept car, the Evos, Ford claims it can adjust the car to custom personal preferences, even down to the cabin temperature, and access to the driver's home entertainment systems for listening to favorite news and music stations.

"A successful car must offer lifestyle, comfort and also fit in with people's ecological awareness," says Stephan Reith of the consultancy firm, Booz & Company.

The automotive part makers such as Bosch in Germany and Valeo in France are busily investing in state-of-the-art onboard computer technologies that can park a vehicle without the driver in the car.

Nevertheless, the new services are not without their dangers, such as driver distraction. The challenge is to meet customer demands without impinging on traffic safety. "Automakers really need to think about all of these things that they're putting in automobiles now and what impact they have on the driver's ability to drive safely" says Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is evaluating in-car technology to develop criteria and regulations that auto manufacturers can use to minimize distractions.

And there are other security concerns, US anti-virus software developer McAfee warned of possible hacker attacks on vehicle computer systems. "It's one thing to hack into someone's email account or laptop. But if cars are hacked, that could seriously compromise critical safety systems," says McAfee general manager Stuart McClure.

And data protection specialists warned drivers must be careful about the sheer volume of personal data stored, particularly in electric cars, which could be used to track somebody's whereabouts or movements.

The concept of the connected car definately has its appeal. Convenient, smartphone-like services can give you quick access to information that can help you save time and even save gas by preventing needless driving.

The bottom line is drivers need to use electronics sensibly. If you need to search the web, send text messages or set destinations when the car is parked or let a passenger work the controls. A driver should ensure that his attention focused on the road and safety is the number one concern.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Can new CEO keep Apple on top?

When Steve Jobs' returned to Apple Inc. in 1997, the company has raced to the top of the music industry, turned the mobility space upside down with the immense popularity of the iPad and iPhone.Now, that Jobs is no longer leading Apple the new CEO will have to prove it can keep its momentum.

Apple said that Jobs, 56, resigned from the CEO post, in a move that seems motivated by his ongoing, yet still unspecified health issues. Jobs had taken an indefinite medical leave of absence in January, marking his third such leave in seven years. Jobs, who co-founded Apple in 1976, previously survived pancreatic cancer and received a liver transplant.

Image from
In his resignation letter, Jobs said "I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come. I hereby resign as CEO of Apple. I would like to serve, if the Board sees fit, as Chairman of the Board, director and Apple employee. As far as my successor goes, I strongly recommend that we execute our succession plan and name Tim Cook as CEO of Apple. I believe Apple’s brightest and most innovative days are ahead of it. And I look forward to watching and contributing to its success in a new role. I have made some of the best friends of my life at Apple, and I thank you all for the many years of being able to work alongside you."

Taking on the role of board chairman, Jobs now passes the CEO role Tim Cook, 50, the company's chief operating officer. Cook had been acting CEO since January. For years, he has been running Apple's day-to-day operations, and has long been seen as the natural successor. He also served as Apple's leader for two months in 2004 while Jobs battled cancer, and again for five months in 2009 when Jobs received a liver transplant. The company has thrived under Cook's leadership, briefly becoming the most valuable company in America earlier this month. Some even compared Apple's worth against the US treasury.

Cook is not nearly as recognizable as Jobs and will have to create his own persona. Jobs became the very public face of Apple, dressed in his signature blue jeans, black turtleneck and wire rimmed glasses constantly presenting the company's new iPhones, iPads, iPods at immensely popular and anticipated media events. Though Jobs has looked increasingly frail, he emerged from his leave twice this year to tout products at such events: Jobs unveiled the second version of Apple's iPad tablet computer in March. Then, in June, he resurfaced to show off Apple's iCloud music synching service.

But while Jobs is the most recognized person at Apple, he is not the only one responsible for the company's success. Many industry watchers believe that despite his importance, Apple will continue to innovate and not just survive, but thrive.

Well respected research analyst Shannon Cross says "Steve Jobs put in place at Apple a culture of innovation." And its innovation has translated to sales. With Cook running the company, Apple sold 9.25 million iPads during the most recent quarter, which ended in June, bringing sales to nearly 29 million iPads since they first began selling in April 2010. Apple also sold 20.3 million iPhones in the same period, which was millions more than analysts expected. The company's stock has risen 8 percent since Jobs announced his most recent medical leave.

Cook's track record at Apple is strong. The first time he was in charge back in 2004, things went so well that Apple promoted him from executive vice president to chief operating officer in 2005.
During the second time, which lasted from mid-January to the end of June 2009, Apple released a new version of the iPhone and updated laptop computers on schedule. The company also announced that its iTunes app store hit a major milestone: More than one billion apps were downloaded within the first nine months of its existence.

Apple's stock rose 62 percent during that time, satisfying investors' concerns over Jobs' absence.
Cook, an Alabaman with short, gray hair and a broad, thin-lipped smile, has been an asset to Apple since his arrival in 1998. He is credited with tuning Apple's manufacturing process to solve chronic product delays and supply problems. His inventory management skills helped Apple build up its $72.6 billion hoard of cash and marketable securities -- funds that it can use to keep its lead in the portable electronics market.

Like IBM, McDonald's or Ford, all of which lost visionary CEOs, Apple is not necessarily dependent on the immortality of the genius behind it, says Terry Connelly, dean of the Ageno School of Business at Golden Gate University in San Francisco. "A company is dependent on its ability to institutionalize that genius in the corporate DNA," he says. "Apple shows every sign of having done that. We will see that when we see how Cook responds to competitive pressure."

And, as Cross points out, Cook won't be leading Apple alone. His supporting team includes Jonathan Ive, who oversees the elegant, minimalist design of Apple's products; Ron Johnson, who runs Apple's stores; Philip Schiller, the marketing chief; and Scott Forstall, who supervises the iPhone software.
"The bench at Apple is extremely strong," Cross says. "He has a good group of executives behind him."

And consumers -- the group Apple really depends on to make its products popular -- may not be that affected by the change. Apple customers don't buy the company's products because of Steve Jobs, Gartner Research analyst Michael Gartenberg says, "people buy Apple products because they're Apple products". Without Jobs, Michael believes the company's challenge will be the same as it was with him: continuing to find ways to raise the bar with its consumer electronics.

So the question is what will happen when Cook takes over the Apple kitchen?