Skip to main content

GM’s new software platform will enable over-the-air updates, in-car subscriptions, and maybe facial recognition

GM’s new software platform will enable over-the-air updates, in-car subscriptions, and maybe facial recognition


Ultifi will start rolling out to GM vehicles in 2023

Share this story

Photo by Sean O’Kane / The Verge

General Motors announced a new “end-to-end” software platform for its cars called “Ultifi” — a play on the name Ultium, which is the automaker’s new electric vehicle battery architecture. GM says the new software will enable over-the-air (OTA) updates, in-car subscription services, and “new opportunities to increase customer loyalty.”

The automaker envisions the new software powering everything from the mundane, like weather apps, to potentially controversial features like the use of in-car cameras for facial recognition or to detect children to automatically trigger the car’s child locks. The Linux-based system will also be available to third-party developers who may want to create apps and other features for GM customers.

GM is currently undergoing a “transformation... from an automaker to a platform innovator,” said Scott Miller, vice president of software-defined vehicles at the company. Miller said he envisions Ultifi serving the role as a “powerful hub for all the vehicle’s systems.”

GM is currently undergoing a “transformation... from an automaker to a platform innovator”

Ultifi will start rolling out to GM vehicles, both electric and gas-powered, in 2023, the company said. By then, GM will have many vehicles running Google’s embedded Android Automotive operating system, which Miller says will work “alongside” its new Ultifi software platform in certain vehicles. Not every GM vehicle will get Android Automotive, which is supposed to start rolling out to new vehicles this year, Miller added.

“Android Automotive is a certain subset of functionality in the car,” he said. “Ultifi is more of an umbrella overall strategy.”

The software will also be cloud-connected, meaning GM will be able to make decisions for the customers without their input. For example, if a vehicle’s owner left their sunroof open and weather services are predicting rain, the vehicle’s software can automatically close the sunroof.

Ultifi isn’t only anchored to systems within the car, Miller said. GM envisions the new platform interacting with other smart devices, such as a customer’s internet-enabled thermostat or a home security system.

GM also sees the potential for in-car purchases and subscriptions as a major new source of revenue for the company. Miller used the example of Super Cruise, GM’s “hands-free” advanced driver-assist system, which is installed in some of the automaker’s vehicles today. In the future, a driver may decide they want to test out Super Cruise on an upcoming road trip. Ultifi will enable that vehicle owner to subscribe to Super Cruise for the trip and then cancel the subscription when they’ve arrived at their destination.

A more common type of subscription that GM customers will face in the future is annual or monthly fees for data storage, similar to the fees that Apple and Google charge to their smartphone customers today.

A more common type of subscription that GM customers will face in the future is annual or monthly fees for data storage

GM isn’t the only automaker contemplating new ways to squeeze money out of its customers beyond the sale of its vehicle. Much like the tech sector, which over the years has figured out how a recurring revenue model allows them to rely on customers paying every month or year, automakers are increasingly turning to subscriptions and in-car fees to bring in more money.

Cars are more full of computers and software than ever before, which has made it possible for automakers to add new features or patch problems on the fly with over-the-air software updates. 

Automakers like Tesla and BMW have proven that some customers are willing to pay to unlock certain vehicle features, like improved infotainment experiences or even longer range in their electric vehicles. Ford has said that its new 2021 F-150 will have over-the-air updates that cover the car from “bumper to bumper,” which could theoretically allow the company to charge for access to certain features.

It’s also proven to be risky business, with BMW ultimately reversing its controversial decision to charge customers an annual fee to use Apple’s CarPlay, which is free in most cars.

Miller said GM is aware that too many subscriptions and fees can have the effect of repelling customers rather than keeping them loyal. “It has to be a win-win proposition for the customer and for us,” he said.

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed Sep 25 Not just you

Emma RothSep 25
Rihanna’s headlining the Super Bowl Halftime Show.

Apple Music’s set to sponsor the Halftime Show next February, and it’s starting out strong with a performance from Rihanna. I honestly can’t remember which company sponsored the Halftime Show before Pepsi, so it’ll be nice to see how Apple handles the show for Super Bowl LVII.

Emma RothSep 25
Starlink is growing.

The Elon Musk-owned satellite internet service, which covers all seven continents including Antarctica, has now made over 1 million user terminals. Musk has big plans for the service, which he hopes to expand to cruise ships, planes, and even school buses.

Musk recently said he’ll sidestep sanctions to activate the service in Iran, where the government put restrictions on communications due to mass protests. He followed through on his promise to bring Starlink to Ukraine at the start of Russia’s invasion, so we’ll have to wait and see if he manages to bring the service to Iran as well.

External Link
Emma RothSep 25
We might not get another Apple event this year.

While Apple was initially expected to hold an event to launch its rumored M2-equipped Macs and iPads in October, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman predicts Apple will announce its new devices in a series of press releases, website updates, and media briefings instead.

I know that it probably takes a lot of work to put these polished events together, but if Apple does pass on it this year, I will kind of miss vibing to the livestream’s music and seeing all the new products get presented.

External Link
Emma RothSep 24
California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoes the state’s “BitLicense” law.

The bill, called the Digital Financial Assets Law, would establish a regulatory framework for companies that transact with cryptocurrency in the state, similar to New York’s BitLicense system. In a statement, Newsom says it’s “premature to lock a licensing structure” and that implementing such a program is a “costly undertaking:”

A more flexible approach is needed to ensure regulatory oversight can keep up with rapidly evolving technology and use cases, and is tailored with the proper tools to address trends and mitigate consumer harm.

Welcome to the new Verge

Revolutionizing the media with blog posts

Nilay PatelSep 13
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Look at this Thing.

At its Tudum event today, Netflix showed off a new clip from the Tim Burton series Wednesday, which focused on a very important character: the sentient hand known as Thing. The full series starts streaming on November 23rd.

The Verge
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Get ready for some Netflix news.

At 1PM ET today Netflix is streaming its second annual Tudum event, where you can expect to hear news about and see trailers from its biggest franchises, including The Witcher and Bridgerton. I’ll be covering the event live alongside my colleague Charles Pulliam-Moore, and you can also watch along at the link below. There will be lots of expected names during the stream, but I have my fingers crossed for a new season of Hemlock Grove.

Tom WarrenSep 23
Has the Windows 11 2022 Update made your gaming PC stutter?

Nvidia GPU owners have been complaining of stuttering and poor frame rates with the latest Windows 11 update, but thankfully there’s a fix. Nvidia has identified an issue with its GeForce Experience overlay and the Windows 11 2022 Update (22H2). A fix is available in beta from Nvidia’s website.