Is My Car Really Becoming an iPhone? Exploring Possible In-Car Subscriptions

The move towards premium subscription services is the first major step within the automotive industry towards tapping into the rapidly growing subscription economy market.

Is My Car Really Becoming an iPhone? Exploring Possible In-Car Subscriptions

We may have become accustomed to purchasing additional extras and subscriptions for our smartphones, but could we be facing a future where we purchase monthly subscriptions for our in-car services? 

According to BMW, monthly subscriptions for optional features like heated seats, connected charging, or the use of smartphones as digital car keys will soon be available for drivers to buy as and when they see fit. Car owners can then keep their features by setting up monthly subscriptions. 

The German manufacturer announced that a series of updates designed to complement BMW’s latest Operating System 7 would include optional extras that can be subscribed through a recurring monthly payment. These extra features extended to real-time connected parking advice, a BMW intelligent personal assistant, BMW maps and Android functionality among other things. 

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(Image: Setapp)

The move towards premium subscription services is the first major step within the automotive industry towards tapping into the rapidly growing subscription economy market.

The rise of interconnected devices and Internet of Things technology has enabled cars to behave more like smartphones - where owners can purchase apps and subscription services where an automatic payment triggers companies to continue supplying their service until a time when payments stop. 

Turning Cars into Smartphones

BMW’s announcement represents the iPhonification of modern cars. The manufacturer championed their announcement by stating that their subscription-based model “offers maximum flexibility and peace of mind to our customers when it comes to choosing and using their optional equipment in their BMWs, whether this BMW is new or used.” 

However, critics have expressed concern that the introduction of premium subscriptions opens the door for more integral features to come at a monthly premium. If this iPhonification were to continue, manufacturers could begin emulating how Apple charges users for extra device storage space by offering more cloud storage for programs for a recurring fee. Ultimately, the rise of subscription-based models in the world of motoring could leave drivers feeling as though they’ve lost their sense of ownership. 

The Lure of Interconnectivity

While the prospect of in-car subscriptions may sound off-putting for the vast majority of drivers, there may be a valid argument for the vehicles developing the level of interconnectivity of smartphones and developing premium features at monthly subscription rates. 

Writing for Driving.ca, Lorraine Sommerfeld took an understandably negative view of interconnected vehicles rolling out premium features. However, a valid point was raised by how Sommerfeld noted that she was already used to picking and choosing the features that she wants. 

In a vehicle that’s capable of offering different features for setting monthly prices, it may be possible for drivers to purchase and remove features as they see fit, rather than paying upfront for them and being stuck with services that they later realise they don’t need. 

Thanks to the ability for internal computers to deliver remote updates to vehicles from manufacturers, via the cloud, new functions, features and services can be introduced to cars just like how smartphones regularly update themselves to new operating systems that are brimful of new features. 

The Irish Times reports that variable features in cars are actually nothing new, and that Tesla has been turning in-car features on and off for purchased vehicles for some time now. In one highlighted case, somebody had bought a Tesla Model S from a dealership where the original owner had purchased ‘Full Self-Driving’ software to be added to the car. However, after taking the car in for a service found that the software had been deactivated. In response to his queries, the manufacturer said: “We looked back at your purchase history and unfortunately full-self driving was not a feature that you had paid for.”

Will All of Our Cars Eventually Become iPhones?

BMW has opened the door to more manufacturers in introducing premium monthly services for drivers. This will likely be a popular choice for companies in the industry as it guarantees a monthly recurring income that was previously inaccessible. 

However, while it seems to be something of an inevitability, could software subscriptions for cars actually be a good thing? 

The answer to this question is yes - provided manufacturers resist the temptation of putting more essential features like GPS and assisted steering behind paywalls. 

Adopting monthly subscriptions for services could be a huge development for car financing options, too. We may ultimately see cars being sold in a similar way to smartphone contracts, where users pay for their handset along with various features like data and talking minutes in a package. In the future, we may see a range of car deals on sale for bundles sums where some contracts could offer live traffic functionality at a higher cost while others could bundle in-car personal assistant software subscriptions. 

Mobile phone contracts have predated a lot of subscription-based technology services, but with BMW’s exploration into offering pay monthly services, we may be seeing a similar pattern emerging in the world of motoring. 

At these delicate early stages, it’s going to be vital that manufacturers get their offerings right. The notion of drivers having the ability to try out new features that may suit them before cancelling their subscription may seem like an appealing one. But if companies begin to ask for monthly fees for vital services, they run the risk of biting the hand that feeds them. 

Author

Dmytro Spilka

Dmytro Spilka

I'm a tech and auto writer based in London. Founder of Solvid and Pridicto. My work has been featured in TechRadar, Entrepreneur, The Next Web, and Huff Post.

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