E-commerce giant Alibaba announced today at the Shanghai Auto Show it is developing apps for connected cars that will allow drivers to find restaurants, get “in line” for a table, and even order food. As TechCrunch reports, users will also eventually be able to “complete a plethora of other tasks” with the same controls using voice, motion, or touch control” from their vehicle.
These so-called “lite” apps are smaller to build than regular standalone apps and come bundled with Alibaba’s all-in-one digital wallet Alipay, which is the most used digital-pay service in China. All apps included in connected cars must meet specific criteria around safety as set by the auto industry and will run on Alibaba’s operating system, AliOS.
In-car commerce, especially around restaurants and food ordering, isn’t yet a widespread phenomenon, but that could change, and quickly. In the states, Domino’s has been testing different versions of its Anyware digital-ordering platform in cars since 2014. And GM’s Marketplace in-car system lets users order and pay for food from chains like Dunkin’ and IHOP.
Cars, meanwhile, are only one of the ways Alibaba is adding disruption to the food industry. Last summer, it opened its automated Robot.he restaurant at the Hema supermarket. The restaurant uses a combination of apps, QR codes, and robots to provide what my colleague Chris Albrecht called “a futuristic dining experience.” The company also unveiled a delivery robot as well as an expanding smart locker, both of which are well-suited to food delivery.
As yet, there’s no timeframe for the in-car apps, though TechCrunch reported that Alibaba is “already planning for a launch.” When Alibaba relaunched AliOS in 2017, the company made it clear it was out to make car software, not the cars themselves. So this in-car commerce news is likely just the start of what will, for China, at least, be many, many in-car app offerings to come.