Volvo, like every other manufacturer out there, is making their lineup more and more connected to the digital world around them. As this turns from being more of a trend and into a simple fact of vehicular life, it seems that car makers, and in this case Volvo in particular, are turning into software makers as well.
One of my brothers is a computer engineer. He’s a hardware jock. He’s a deep dive kind of guy with multiple advanced degrees from very prestigious engineering colleges.
If it’s a computer that can withstand an electromagnetic pulse that could knock down a space shuttle or a machine the NSA would purchase by the train car load, that’s his style. Years ago I swung by his office in Boston, and I noticed he had a bookcase that was overflowing.
“You need a bigger bookcase,” I observed adroitly.
With a wry look of resignation on his face he smirked and said, “yeah, ever since that Gates guy, everybody’s a software engineer now, even us hardware jocks.”
His point was this: With computers of all sizes becoming ubiquitous throughout our daily lives, and hardware more or less stable in design and configuration, hardware is not the issue, software is and will be the prevalent issue in the future. Whether you realize it or not, you can see this all the time. From on high come the invisible edicts. From places like Cupertino and Redmond comes a little flashing notice on your smartphone or tablet: “Software update available. Install?”
And now there’s this whole internet of things (IoT), where your toaster can talk with your fridge and digitally nag you in the middle of the day to go pick up English Muffins or, “better” yet, automatically order them from an online shopping company.
Car companies are getting hip to this. Generally falling under the heading of “connected services,” they are trying to pump more and more info down your optic chiasma via the ever-growing touchscreen in the center of your dash. It all started out innocently enough: maintenance intervals and reminders, navigation functions, stuff like that. But now the madness is starting to set in. The marketing weasels are starting to gain more and more control and some cars are starting to shove “purchasing suggestions” at you as you drive. Insinuating where to eat. Reminding you to go buy, buy, buy.
On Demand Services
Volvo, the Scandinavian maker of all things boxy and logical, is even getting hip to this. It goes so far that their latest memo is not about a new engine or fuel economy numbers, about sales or even a new model. No, it’s about a software upgrade to their in-car driver/passenger interface.
Volvo announced a series of updates to its global connected services program and to its Sensus in-car user interface. The updates will start with the new XC60 and the company’s existing and new 90 Series cars. This also includes Volvo’s In-car Delivery service, part of the Volvo On Call smartphone app that accepts deliveries to your car. In-car Delivery will expand to five additional countries this year. Yeah. I know. You can get stuff delivered to your car. No. No, I don’t have any idea why you would want to do that.
“This is just the start,” advised Björn Annwall, Senior Vice President, Global Consumer Experience at Volvo Car Group. “Our roll out of one of the most comprehensive and customer relevant services in the industry is now shifting up a gear, and you will see more convenient and time-saving services offered in the coming months.”
Always On Call
Volvo On Call, the company’s connected smartphone app, has undergone a total redesign to support the addition of all the new services. The Swedish car company says that On Call is one of the most widespread connected car platforms available today, and that it will be expanding. It will be available in around 50 countries by the end of 2017 and will cover more than 90 percent of Volvo Cars’ global sales.
Volvo says this is happening because of an “increasing desire among premium car drivers to access car features and related services while not in their car,” and that “Volvo Cars’ approach with Volvo On Call is firmly based on its commitment to make life easier for its drivers.”
Sure, it could be that. But there’s also a lot of data, sweet, sweet demographic derived user data to be mined, chopped, sifted, leveraged and, if the opportunity arises, sold.
If you’re a Volvo owner, you can now send navigation destinations based on your calendar directly to your car. You can find nearby gas stations and even get help finding your car in parking lots or on unfamiliar city streets using this smartphone app. Volvo completed an update of the GUI for the Sensus system in the new XC60 as well as in the 90 Series cars to improve usability – they also refreshed the overall design.
These new Volvo On Call updates will apply to all new models, natch, but they are also available for Volvo On Call equipped cars back to the 2012 model year. The Sensus user interface design in the new XC60 will come already installed in new 90 Series cars. Existing 90 Series cars will be updated at the next service.
Tony Borroz has spent his entire life racing antique and sports cars. He means well, even if he has a bias towards lighter, agile cars rather than big engine muscle cars or family sedans.