Amidst a fierce battle with Uber for dominance in the Indian online cab hailing market, Ola said on Tuesday it would launch a connected car platform, Ola Play.
Ola Play will use custom user preferences and ride information like time and destination to offer recommendations in the ride. It will also let customers tweak the in car air conditioning. Ola has tied up with Qualcomm for this service and will offer music and video streaming from Apple Music, Sony LIV, and Audio Compass. Ola will also integrate Play into its Mahindra vehicles.
Although, Ola's US-based rival Uber Technologies Inc had done a very similar tie-up with music streaming company Spotify two years ago. Ola Play is a proprietary in-car cloud technology from Ola bringing car controls, choice of content and "interactive experience" for the user.
Bhavish Aggarwal, co-founder and chief executive at Ola said, "With over 60 million minutes spent in Ola rides every day, the impact on consumer comfort, convenience and productivity can be transformative."
Aggarwal added hinting at the competition, "Ola Play is a world first, built in India by an Indian team, which showcases that we can do better than the best in the world, and be global leaders in technology and innovation."
Ola Play claims to give control of the in-car experience to users from the driver console.
Customers can access Ola Play from their own devices or from the screen devices mounted in-car, along with the car's surround sound systems. Ola has also tied up with online fashion app Fynd to enable shopping "on the go" for Ola's commuters.
Will this help Ola to fend off Uber?
Anand Sanwal, CEO and co-founder of data analytics firm CB Insights told Techcircle via mail, "It makes sense that Ola is trying to differentiate itself versus its more well-capitalised rival Uber. Unfortunately, however, Ola Play seems like a tough way to do this."
Sanwal added, "While the service might be useful and interesting to Ola loyalists, it doesn't do anything to increase liquidity of cars or cost which are what will drive market share gains. In addition, their move to attract third party app developers to this platform also suggests this could be a significant distraction or resource intensive effort for a company that should be focused on different things."
In India, Ola is in a cash-burning race with Uber. The US cab-hailing firm in August sold its China operations to bigger local rival Didi Chuxing in a deal that gave Uber a one-fifth stake in Didi. Uber earlier said the deal with Didi will allow it to invest more in India.
According to Mrigank Gutgutia of RedSeer Consulting, "Market is getting more mature and standardised over the last couple of years in terms of hygiene factors like expected time of arrival, availability, prices etc. There is very little to differentiate top players on these parameters now."
Ola Play will be made available on Ola Prime in Bengaluru, Mumbai and Delhi for select customers and will be rolled out across other cities and to over 50,000 vehicles by March 2017, the company said.
Gutgutia added, "Cab aggregators are looking to differentiate themselves by offering value added services to customers and solve customer's key pain points regarding the booking experience and ride experience - which is what Ola is trying to achieve by launching this service. However, it remains to be seen what kind of customer acceptance and take-up this initiative will see."