iOS in the car
A platform for applications created by developers will be key for car manufacturers to succeed as Apple and Google enter their market Apple

Creating a platform for developers to build applications will be key to the success of car manufacturers, as Apple and Google disrupt the industry, turning vehicles into "smartphones on wheels".

Speaking at the SMMT Connected conference in London, Dr Wolfgang Ziebart, director of the engineering group at Jaguar Land Rover, said connected and autonomous cars of the near-future will depend on a platform through which developers can create apps, just as they have to revolutionise the smartphone industry.

Citing the app stores of Apple's iOS and Google's Android mobile platforms, Ziebart said: "What is key for car manufacturers? To provide a platform where others can add applications as easily as possible. This is to me the key to success for car manufacturers."

Car is biggest part of Internet of Things

Discussing how the consumer technology and car manufacturing industries have grown close in recent years - not least through connecting cars and smartphones - Ziebart said, in the world of the Internet of Things (IOT), the car "is by far the biggest thing; it's moving, it can pick up any information from the environment. This is all highly, highly relevant device for the Internet of Things".

Suggesting the car industry is keeping an eye on the work of both Google and Apple, Ziebart acknowledged that their largest strengths lie in having a huge number of users and a pool of developers creating apps for the iOS and Android platforms.

Car manufacturers are already developing ways for cars to communicate to the cloud and wider IOT. Volvo is creating a system where its vehicles communicate with each other and the local authorities about road conditions, sending out alerts if they encounter snow, ice or other poor road conditions. Ford is developing a smart seat which monitors the health of the driver and is capable of recognising heart conditions.

But treating cars as smartphones is not a simple conclusion to make. Glenn Schmidt, head of steering government and external affairs at BMW Group, told the SMMT Connected audience that he "strongly disagrees" with cars being described as smartphones on wheels. "A vehicle is fundamentally different because of safety...vehicle data [and data used to interact with apps] really needs to be controlled in a backend type solution," said Schmidt.

Recognising transport secretary Robert Goodwill's earlier claims of the UK becoming a world leader in the connected and autonomous car era, Schmidt urged that legislation for entirely driverless cars must be introduced now. The UK currently leads the way in allowing the testing of autonomous cars on its roads, but BMW wants more countries to get involved.

"The next step [beyond what is currently available], where the driver is not involved, is not regulated. But we need this regulation now to trial and pilot these features. We can't wait until 2020 or 2025, we need it at an earlier point," Schmidt added.