Alibaba is Developing Connected Car Apps That Let Drivers Order Food and More Using Voice Commands

TechCrunch reported yesterday that Alibaba announced at the 2019 Shanghai Auto Show it is developing apps for connected cars allowing drivers to find restaurants, make restaurant reservations, and order food. Alibaba also stated that in the future drivers will have access to a wide range of apps able to complete more tasks using voice, motion, or touch control. The apps will run on Alibaba’s operating system, called AliOS, and third-party developers were also invited to make their own in-car apps. Alibaba did not give a launch date.

FUNCTIONALITY POSSIBLE THROUGH “MINI APPS”

The apps that Alibaba is referring to are not like traditional mobile apps that are downloaded to a smartphone. Alibaba says that in-car services will come in the form of “mini apps,” or lite apps. Mini apps can be hosted inside of super apps, creating an environment that users rarely need to leave in order to access several different kinds of services. Mini apps are smaller than regular apps making them cheaper and easier to build, although third-party developers must abide by the host’s rules, including giving the host a certain level of access to user data. The mini apps will be faster to access, which allows them to be used easily within Alibaba’s super apps. An all-in-one digital wallet called Alipay, a marketplace called Taobao, and a navigation service called AutoNavi are all Alibaba super app options that these connected car mini apps could be hosted in. Alibaba says that there will be “specific review criteria for safety and control” tailored to the auto industry for in-car apps.

ALIBABA WANTS CONTROL OF USER EXPERIENCE IN THE CAR

Alibaba commanded about 40% of the smart speaker market share in China at the end of 2018 according to data sets from both Canalys and Strategy Analytics. That market share is expected to remain intact in 2019 based on Canalys’ forecast of 39% for Alibaba devices. But Alibaba has been working to expand its reach in other sectors. In the Fall of 2017, Alibaba announced it was upgrading its operating system strategy to focus investment on the Internet of Things (IoT) market. As a part of that move, Alibaba rebranded it’s YunOS operating system to AliOS, prompting a focus on OS solutions for mobile, industrial and IoT devices. The company also announced it a joint venture called Banma Network Technology between Alibaba Group, Dongfeng Peugot Citroen Automobile Company, and SAIC Motor Crop., which is China’s largest automaker, in order to release AliOS-enabled cars. TechCrunch reports that as of August 2018, 700,00 AliOS-powered SAIC vehicles have been sold. Alibaba’s decision to work on the operating system in connected cars indicates the importance that this market will have in the future.

VOICE ASSISTANT USE IN THE CAR IS ONLY RISING

Voicebot research confirms that Alibaba’s move makes sense. Data from the Voicebot In-Car Voice Assistant Consumer Adoption Report 2019 found that nearly twice as many U.S. adults have used voice assistants in the car (114 million) as through a smart speaker (57.8 million). The car also claims far more monthly active voice users as 77 million compared to 45.7 million.

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An indicator that voice assistant use is likely to expand in the car is underscored by 57.6% of current users expecting to increase their usage in 2019. In fact, consumers using voice assistants in cars were 14 times more likely to say they expected to use them more in 2019 as opposed to decreasing. Alibaba is aware of the importance of having a role in the car, and connected car mini-apps are a great way to make that role clear.

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