If you own a new car, or if you're up-to-date on what's going on in automotive technology, you know the telematics systems built into most vehicles coming off the line these days are pretty amazing. Not only do you have head-up displays built into the center console giving drivers maps, hands-free calling, and voice controls, but you also have systems that can interface with your smartphone to wirelessly connect with apps like Pandora and in the case of Ford's Sync system, even read your text messages to you.
In fact, Ford is on the forefront when it comes to connecting cars to the Internet--this year the company opened a new office in Silicon Valley where researchers and scientists now work on connectivity technology and cloud computing platforms for future vehicles. (For what it's worth, the West Coast operation also is on the lookout for firms it can partner with on upcoming projects.)
As part of its focus on building smart cars, Ford and its Lincoln brand have been incorporating a list of iOS and Android apps to work with its Sync system. Most recently the company added the location-based discount app Roximity. This represents a couple of opportunities for small businesses.
First, if you're a local business that relies on people stopping into your brick-and-mortar store, Roximity can help people find you as they're driving around. Here's how it works: A driver in a car equipped with Sync AppLink presses a voice command button and says things like "restaurant deals" or "entertainment deals" and any nearby offers from businesses registered with the Roximity service get zapped to their smartphone.
Sound gimmicky? I asked how many deals I could get in my part of the world--the Twin Cities area--and it turns out there are more than 3,600 offers available here, which isn't too bad considering Minneapolis and St. Paul aren't huge markets. Nationwide, Roximity says it has tens of thousands of deals running.
Will the app, which was just launched Dec. 4, actually increase local shopping? Possibly. You'd think searching for categories of local deals when you're in the mood for shopping and out in the world with your wallet on the ready would be more relevant than wading through Groupon or Living Social deals in your email inbox when you're sitting in front of a computer.
Roximity works in partnership with Valpak, which you might know for the coupon mailers it sends out to 44 million households each month. To get your deals sent out to people as they drive by your store, go here. Plans start at $250 a month for retailers with a single store location, but Roximity says most retailers start at a $1000 a month plan, which allows for more locations and message volume.
Another opportunity here is for programmers. A recent survey of more than 5,500 developers revealed that 74% of those queried plan to build apps for connected cars.
In addition to its Ford integration, Roximity also works with Apple's Passbook and will soon be available to Honda and Subaru drivers, as well.