Smartphones Are The New Pot

June 24, 2010

If you drive a car, chances are good that you own a smartphone, so we feel it's only fair to warn you that you're messing with fire.

J.D. Power recently conducted its 2010 U.S. Automotive Emerging Technologies Study, and the results are clear: smartphones are a technological gateway drug, leading their owners down the primrose path to full-on geekdom. Thankfully, this is not a bad thing.

The J.D. Power study wasn't meant to focus on smartphone users, but analysts did notice some trends -- namely, that a slim majority of drivers (51%) own smartphones, and that they tend to be far more interested in new technology than their peers with non-smartphones (which some have suggested we call "stupidphones", but that's a little harsh so close to the weekend).

Particularly notable is the number of smartphone users who want in-car internet: J.D. Power found that a whopping 77% are jonesing for some web-on-the-go, compared to 64% among all users. Furthermore, 56% of smartphone owners were interested in a mobile router, which is markedly higher than the 46% average.

Of course, that was before J.D. Power's survey-takers discussed the dollars and cents. After pricing of the technology was revealed, interest dropped considerably. Wireless connectivity fell to 51% on average, with the #1 spot taken by "non-branded premium sound systems" (54%), followed closely by "remote vehicle diagnostics" (52%). There's no official breakdown on how smartphone users were affected, but it's safe to assume that their interest shriveled somewhat.

Our take

From where we sit, there are a couple of important takeaways from the J.D. Power survey:

1. Technology won't be attractive -- even to rabid early adopters -- as long as prices stays high. As proof, just think back to the summer of 2007, when the first-gen iPhone launched at a sticker price of $600. Although sales were brisk, many Apple fanboys steered clear until prices dropped into more reasonable territory (about a month later).

Car tech is no different: confronted by high prices, consumers will try to get the biggest bang for their buck -- which may explain why a stereo system rather than wi-fi appeared at the top of the study's post-pricing wish list. Mobile routers from companies like Autonet currently run around $300 or $400, which is perhaps a hundred or two too high for massive adoption just yet.

2. Smartphones change users' expectations of technology. Basic mobile phones are fine for texts, email, and, depending on the network, actual phone calls;  smartphones, on the other hand -- whether they're iPhones, Androids, Blackberries, or Other -- offer many, many more options. As a result, smartphone users don't just become familiar with the technology, they don't just get comfortable with it, they begin to expect it everywhere. And their cars are no exception.

3. Technology is the new horsepower. Okay, we didn't actually say that: Ford design honcho Chiwei Lee did. And clearly, the guy is onto something.

For more info about cars, car tech, and the J.D. Power 2010 U.S. Automotive Emerging Technologies Study, check out the official press release below.

* * * * *

J.D. Power and Associates Reports:

Smartphone Ownership Drives Increased Vehicle Owner Interest in Communication- and Connectivity-Related Features

WESTLAKE VILLAGE, Calif.: 23 June 2010 - As a growing number of vehicle owners migrate from traditional cell phones to smartphones, their interest in key communication- and connectivity-related features for their vehicle has also increased, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2010 U.S. Automotive Emerging Technologies StudySM released today.

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