Microsoft and Apple Race to the Vehicle Media Market

Last Updated Nov 18, 2010 3:13 PM EST

If you're looking for a growth market in technology, you could do worse than to look at new ways to serve up digital media in cars and planes. Of course, the big guys are already there, and recent patent filings give an early sense of how Apple (AAPL) and Microsoft (MSFT) are racing to stake out their territory in the field.

Apple's Applications

Apple application number 20100293462 is called Pushing a User Interface to a Remote Device. The concept is to have a portable music device able to send the appropriate user interface to a remote control device. Filed in January 2010, it's a continuation of another Apple application filed on May 13, 2008.

There's an inherent problem, in Apple's eye, to remote controls for portable media players: the remote control defines and controls the graphical user interface (GUI). Pushing the GUI from the player would ensure a single user interface -- and, of course, give Apple control of the user experience. The specific example of the problem the company offers is a "Mobile Device Gateway" from Johnson Controls International, which is intended for use in vehicles.

Another Apple patent application is number 20100285763, Communicating Radio Presents between a Portable Media Player and an Accessory. A portable media player keeps multiple radio station presets that it can shift by location or any other criterion:

For example, if the user is at location A, he can select a presets list associated with location A without having to scan through all radio stations available for that location to find a particular radio station. In some embodiments, the presets lists can be created external to the portable media device. In some embodiments, the portable media device can have the ability to determine a current location and create a presets list for the current location.
The media player could be connected to a home stereo or an in-vehicle entertainment system -- not the only possibility, but, again, a clear play for drivers.

In January of this year, Apple also filed application 20100017118, Parking & Location Management Processes & Alerts, to help drivers find parking near to their location.

That people might connect their iPhones or iPods to in-vehicle entertainment systems is hardly surprising. Nor should it startle anyone that Apple would use innovation to tie the market more clearly to it, as it becomes another way to keep competitors off.

Microsoft's Applications

With Zune and, more importantly, Windows Phone 7, Microsoft also has an interest in media in vehicles. However, it doesn't have the market presence to allow a hardware lock-in. So, instead, the company has recently approached the vehicle media market from a different angle.

Witness patent application number 20100293033, Delivering Contextual Advertising to a Vehicle. An on-board computer of some sort (maybe a phone or possibly an in-car unit running Microsoft's embedded operating system) would develop profile data based on what was happening in the vehicle. The information could be GPS location and other associated data to intelligently deliver an ad with less chance of annoying the driver. For example, the car might deliver location data that, with other geographic data, would let a system know that the car had stopped at a coffee and doughnut shop, so an ad for a similar business wouldn't play for some time.

In this case, the media player market isn't the clear target of the patent application so much as Google might be. (An unrelated but other clear attack at Google is this Microsoft patent application for tools to let developers test Web display ads.)

From March of year comes another example: application number 20100076670, Mobile Data Flow Collection and Dissemination. It's a way to use long-range Bluetooth to connect vehicle devices, while in motion, to devices in other vehicles and to roadside hubs to get information on traffic.

Application 20100255830, made public last month, is called Mobile Sensor Network. Such sensors as accelerometers and GPS systems could operate in lieu of traditional sensor networks to provide traffic information.

We'll continue to see Microsoft, Apple, and other companies push on the boundaries on media and information services for vehicles as they all jockey for market position.


Image: user jmjvicente, site standard license.
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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.