In case you have not come across them yet, Seeking Alpha's Market Currents provide an incredible amount of value to investors. I came across this one regarding Intel (NASDAQ:INTC), a stock I recently bought and am quite bullish on, Wednesday morning:
Of course, Intel continues to dictate the direction of the computer industry to all companies with the exception of Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT). See the chipmaker's recent ultrabook push via its "VC arm." And now, as Market Currents noted, the company invests $100M in the automotive space. From Intel's press release:
The Intel Capital Connected Car Fund will be invested globally over the next 4 to 5 years in hardware, software and services companies developing technologies to promote new, compelling in-vehicle applications and enable the seamless connection between vehicles and any connected device, including mobile devices and sensors.
... Once the car becomes connected, it can also communicate with the cloud, the transportation infrastructure and even other vehicles to provide additional services such as advanced driver assistance and real-time traffic information to optimize the flow of traffic.
"Technology has become an integral component of everyday life, with consumers demanding uninterrupted access to the Internet and the constant flow of information, news, entertainment, and social media," said Arvind Sodhani, president of Intel Capital and Intel executive vice president. "Automobiles must be able to provide these same consistent and engaging computing experiences, but in a safe manner. The Intel Capital Connected Car Fund will drive the development of technologies to enhance the in-vehicle experience of the future."
Once the car becomes connected ... That's really the key. I've been waiting for somebody to come along and act out the future in this space. It appeared (or maybe appears, it's somewhat unclear) that Research in Motion (RIMM) was prepared to do this to some degree. They're apparently still on the beat, but, as is typical with RIM, we are not hearing much from them about it. The company remains preoccupied with telling investors how it intends to hold onto its already-failed plans for dear life.
If it's a choice between Intel or RIM to take the lead in this regard, it's obvious who investors will (and should) put their money on.
It will be interesting to see how Intel proceeds with this. Of course, the companies it decides to partner with could benefit. I've always wondered why Garmin (NASDAQ:GRMN) does not make a bigger push in this regard. Or maybe they are and I have just not been paying attention. Somebody who follows the company a bit more closely will certainly chime in.
Ultimately, there's no reason why you cannot, someday, be connected to the Internet while you're driving in most places. Cities are going wireless. It's only a matter of time before a company like Intel steps in and squares away any and all of the issues that prevent this from happening in the car. Like Steve Jobs used to, Intel will tell engineers and designers to do the impossible and they'll make it happen.
Losers would be the most easy-to-access in-dash technology, ranging from broadcast radio to Sirius XM (NASDAQ:SIRI) satellite radio. These options often become the default choice in the car, primarily because of choice. I know I only listen to terrestrial radio in my wife's just two-year old Honda because it cannot take a USB connection for my iPod or smart phone.
Despite the associated difficulties, people seem to be going out of their way to connect mobile devices in the car. A report from the NPD Group shows that the writing is clearly on the wall:
Portable media devices, such as smart phones, iPhones and iPods, are gaining popularity in the vehicle as consumers increasingly use them to access digital content while on-the-go, according to leading market research company The NPD Group. In fact, sales of products designed to integrate portable devices in the vehicle accounted for more than $170 million in 2011, according to NPD's Retail Tracking Service ...
"Traditional radio and CD audio remain firmly entrenched in the vehicle from both a device and entertainment standpoint," said Ben Arnold, NPD's director of industry analysis.
In-vehicle connectivity is also starting to emerge as a purchase factor with a third (32%) of consumers saying the feature is highly important in their decision to buy future car audio products.
While 18% of vehicle owners have an auxiliary input installed into their vehicle stereo system, 11% are connecting through a USB port. Despite being present in just 13% of vehicles, wireless connectivity is gaining favor as a way to more easily control these devices and tap into connected services. More than half (56%) of vehicle owners with a built-in Bluetooth or wireless phone connection installed said they always use it or use it most of the time.
"The key is for auto makers and traditional audio manufacturers to facilitate consumer use of connected devices in the vehicle, allowing content from the smart phone, tablet or digital media player to easily stream or be controlled through the deck mounted in the dashboard," Arnold said. "We're only going to see greater consumer attachment to social media, streaming audio and video, and other services as content options grow."
Of course, this is huge for Apple (not that the company needs any more variables to increase customer loyalty and adoption of new and upgraded products), but it also bodes well for companies such as Pandora (NYSE:P). A seamlessly-connected car could push the next wave of Pandora users into the fold. No matter how it shakes out, however, Intel, as usual will have its hands deep in the pot.
I am long both INTC and P, for the long-term, via a bi-weekly dollar cost averaging program.