Amazon’s first connected car app, Amazon Cloud Player, went live last week, allowing its customers to pull their music collections out of the airwaves and into their Ford dashboards. It’s certainly a new milestone for Amazon, which is adding the car to the growing number of devices and platforms it supports. It also got me thinking about what Amazon’s next connected car app might be, and the answer seems obvious: the Kindle.
Books have always been Amazon’s bread and butter, and much of Amazon’s ebook strategy has focused on finding more ways and identifying new devices for people to enjoy the pastime of reading. The car is the logical next step, considering how much time people spend their automobiles on their daily commutes and simply running errands. In fact, a lot of drivers already do plenty of reading in their cars with audiobooks, using both physical and digital media. Some people have even managed to cram Amazon’s Audible books into their car stereos using USB drives or auxiliary ports.
Amazon stands to gain plenty by embracing that trend, and I don’t just mean by selling audiobooks in the car. (In case you’re wondering, it’s not possible today to stream an Audible book through Cloud Player). While there is a healthy segment of readers who just want audiobooks, I bet there’s a far bigger market of people who normally read their books in ink — in either the printed or digital variety — but would like the option of switching to audio when they get behind the wheel.
No large-scale development required
For Amazon to make that work it would have to supply its books in dual-media formats. You would then read from your Kindle or Kindle smartphone app when otherwise unoccupied, but once you stepped into your vehicle the device would automatically pair with the Kindle app in the car, which would immediately start reading your book aloud at the exact point you left off.
Amazon already has much of this technology in place. Last year, Amazon introduced Whispersync for Voice, which allows you to pair an Audible book with an ebook for a few extra bucks. Amazon isn’t just selling the same media in two formats, it’s integrating them. A narration feature allows you to listen along as you read from the Kindle — after each word is spoken the text is highlighted on the screen. Customers can switch between audio to visual-only formats with just a touch of the button.
It would be cinch for Amazon to integrate that technology into the car. It would merely have to develop software for the Kindle and Kindle apps that would integrate with the various automakers’ connected car interfaces, just as it’s done for Cloud Player on Sync AppLink.
It could also tap into the automakers’ speech recognition systems, allowing readers to pause the audio stream or navigate their books with simple voice commands. Amazon has invested plenty in voice and speech interface technologies over the last two years, buying both Ivona and Yap. Those acquisitions could come in handy when developing any new connected car technology.
Amazon stays mum
I should say now that we have no specific knowledge that Amazon is working on Kindle for the car, but just to be sure we put the question to the company itself. While an Amazon spokesperson confirmed that the company today has the technology to seamlessly switch between book formats, Amazon wouldn’t comment on any future connected car plans. The spokesperson said as a matter of policy Amazon doesn’t comment on future product plans.
That’s pretty much what we expected to hear, but if Amazon does wind up pursuing this technology, I for one would buy it. Today I have an uneasy relationship with ebooks. I download the occasional tome on iBooks or Kindle, but for the most part, I still have an irrational attachment to paper books. I can get away with that attachment because today I can read a physical book in the same places I can read an ebook — on a train or in plane, while camping or lying around on the couch — but one place I cannot read a physical book is in the driver’s seat of a car. By creating a connected car app, the Kindle and ebooks in general would become immensely more valuable to me.
It’s not just consumers who would get excited about Kindle for the car. The automakers would fall all over themselves lining up to support it. One of the reasons the automakers have proceeded so cautiously with app development is a concern over safety — distracting apps could cause accidents. But the auto industry has been quick to sign off on any audio-only multimedia service, as evidenced by all of streaming music and radio apps that populate connected car dashboards.