When it comes to connected cars in the U.S. -- a new wave of combined auto and communications technologies that are revolutionizing the way we drive -- I'm asked the same question over again: when will connected cars become "mainstream?"
Judging by a look at the news, the answer is now. Consider a few stories that came out over the last week:
• Influential tech publication CNet reported that in the four weeks since GM began shipping cars with an AT&T 4G LTE radio embedded inside, 98 percent of its customers have opted to try out the free trial. "It's a scary high acceptance rate for the trials," CNet quoted Mary Chan, president of GM's global connected consumer, as saying.
• The CNet report was followed by coverage by other tech publications including PC Mag and Ars Technica. These outlets' attention seemed captured by what Hot Hardware called "rabid demand" for the service.
• The CNet story bolstered a report by Heavy Reading "Mobile Networks Insider" predicting the connected car market would grow by more than 500 percent, saying "growth in the connected car market now is being driven primarily by two factors. First is the increased demand for wireless connectivity. Second, global regulatory mandates are requiring the usage of telematics for safety purposes."
• The day after Heavy Reading's analysis was published, Parks Associates released data underscoring support of vehicle owners for connected car features. The report, Connected Cars: Revenue Opportunities "features research and analysis on market trends, big data analytics, [usage-based insurance], emergency assistance, stolen vehicle recovery, location-based services, infotainment, Wi-Fi hot spots, and safe-driving technologies." The report makes the link between consumers' desire to be connected in the car with their connected lifestyle outside of the car, pointing out that "[o]ver 80 percent of U.S. broadband households with a mobile phone service have a smartphone, which is a gateway device for connected cars."
• GM isn't the only "mainstream" entity mining connected car potential. Last week, the promise of these technologies was noticed when the Wall Street Journal, MSN, and other Wall Street watchers put the spotlight on an initial public offering (IPO) by auto tech company Mobileye. These very "mainstreet" media outlets called Mobilieye -- which makes cameras that "see" the road ahead of cars, useful for driverless applications -- the "hot" IPO on the Street, and pointed out that mutual funds were big winners in the deal.
• Finally, Ford and CTIA -- The Wireless Association (which represents Verizon, AT&T, and other connectivity giants) announced the first-ever app developer conference for automotive at CTIA's SuperMobilityWeek mega-conference in September. On announcing the gathering bringing these industry giants together, CEO and President Meredith Attwell Baker said that combining auto experts and app developers is an example of the "transformative possibilities" that will "translate into a better and more technologically advanced driver experience."
Not a bad week for the connected car -- and the technologies within it that are adding up to transform our travel in the same way cell phones changed the way we communicate.