Do cars have the potential to replace smartphones as the ultimate mobile device?
Or will cars, as the executive chairman of Ford (F) mused rhetorically, become mere handsets for smartphone companies?
Automakers are attempting to answer the question, publicly revealing their respective "connected car" strategies. Last week in China, General Motors (GM) demonstrated how cars communicate with one another, with infrastructure such as traffic signals and with pedestrians to drastically reduce accidents.
In Tokyo, Toyota (TM) unveiled its "connected" strategy last week, asserting that cellphone manufacturers won't be the main link between passengers in its cars and the cloud -- Toyota will be. Last year, the automaker said it was investing $1 billion in a global effort to develop software and artificial intelligence.
"To guarantee the safety of the customer, the manufacturer must be the platform provider," said Shigeki Tomoyama, president of the automaker's new connected car subsidiary. Toyota vehicles will be connected to the Internet, he explained; the automaker will be a seller of services, not just cars and trucks.
"Connected" is a broad term used in an automotive context, referring to any way a car may be joined to the Internet for purposes of navigation, shopping, entertainment and a variety of potentially lucrative businesses.
Toyota is among those automakers that don't offer Apple Car Play or Android Auto as part of their infotainment packages. Car Play and Auto allow smartphones to be synched to infotainment systems, mirroring apps on dashboard screens. Why, Toyota seems to ask by withholding these handy features from its customers, should it help Silicon Valley software makers wriggle deeper into its business?