touch and Vinli Make Your Car as Connected as Your Phone

Alexis Baghdadi, May 06 2016

Cars haven’t made many headlines on the digital scene so far. Manufacturers mostly focus on improving traditional performance indicators like fuel consumption, and even “smart” features like performance monitoring and maintenace alerts haven’t really disrupted the industry.

The reason behind this is that people don’t feel connected with their cars the way they do with their phones, explained the US-based star Lebanese entrepreneur, Mark Haidar.

Haidar noticed that consumers usually settle for the technology in their car - even though it is already 3 years old by the time the car is manufactured. But when it comes to their phones, they have extremely high standards and are always looking for the latest upgrades. Upgrading car technologies isn’t widely feasible yet, nor can consumers afford to change cars like they change phones.

His love for cars led him to launch his startup, Vinli, in 2014, and he began designing a solution that could very well change the game for the whole industry, reconnecting consumers with their cars. In june 2015, he raised 46.5 million in a Series A round, and two months later, the Vinli device was commercially released in the US.

Vinli recently launched its device in Bahrain - its first market outside the US. It is currently in its testing phase in Lebanon, and will be rolled out by August 2016, thanks to a partnership with the national telecom operator, touch, managed by Zain Group.

Empowering Drivers with Connected Cars

Vinli offers a simple solution: a plug-and-play adapter compatible with virtually any vehicle’s OBD-II (on-board diagnostics) port that connects existing cars to the 4.5G advanced high-speed internet from touch.

The device automatically turns the car into a smart car with a wifi hotspot. It gives drivers access to unique services from Vinli such as accident response protocols, diagnostic tools, etc. It will read the OBD-II information from the host vehicle and send that data to third-party apps on a connected smartphone that can make use of it.

It also connects them to a car-centric app store on their smartphones. In addition to Vinli’s own apps, the store includes a wide range of apps such as car diagnostics, vehicle tracking, driver monitoring, maintenance reminders, road side assistance and much more.

“An app store is a normal feature that users expect in their smart devices, and one that can be customized” said Haidar.

Developers will be able to publish their app on the Vinli platform and benefit from privileged and targeted exposure. This will create an ever-changing connected car experience that evolves along with the needs of consumers.

Connected Cars Enter the IoT Market

The automotive industry is due for a transformation. According to research firm IDC, the Internet of Things (IoT) market will generate around $9 trillion in annual sales by 2020. A report from SNS Research estimates that connected car services will bring in nearly $40 billion in annual revenue by 2020, including infotainment, navigation, fleet management, and others.

Haidar said manufacturers have mostly been receptive to the idea of a plugin like Vinli's device, with only a few showing some hesitation. They definitely see this solution as one that would endear consumers to their cars, and increase their brand loyalty, he said.

In Lebanon, touch's coverage will enable Vinli to deploy its solution across 95% of the territory. "We're about empowering people by bringing high-speed connectivity and smart-car apps to the cars they're driving today," said Haidar

The device will be commercialized with different data plan options. The touch LAB space in Beirut will help roll out and market the product. It will also provide support to developers interested in creating apps for the Vinli app store.

“We are enthusiastic about entering the world of IoT through a connected car premier,” said Nadim Khater, Chief Commercial Officer at touch. He explained the solution addresses the B2B segment. since many car dealerships have expressed interest in this device, and so have app development companies.

This will serve to bring cars fully into the digital age as more than just means of transportation. It could also constitute a counterpoint to the trend of car sharing, and give car sales a boost. Stay tuned for updates.

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