India's Uber rival Ola to license connected car platform to vehicle makers worldwide

Jon Russell

Ride-sharing companies the world over are branching out to go beyond just handling your car trips.

In recent weeks we've seen Uber, the pioneer of the genre, announced its own Visa card while Southeast Asia's Grab is developing a payment wallet that lets you pay for lunch, dinner and other small items.

Now India-based Ola is doubling down on connect car tecnology after it revealed plans to offer its one-year-old Ola Play platform to car makers in India and across the world.

Ola Play, for those who missed it, is designed to help commuters maximize their time inside rides while providing a touch of the high-end experience.

It's marketed particularly at India in response to brutal traffic jams in urban areas, and includes a touch screen console that provides access to a bunch of consumer services -- including entertainment and shopping -- and vehicle controls for drivers. Now it is adding productivity tools thanks to a new partnership with Microsoft.

The U.S. giant, which was rumored to keen on investing in Ola but wasn't part of its recent $1.1 billion round, is providing access to Office 365, Skype for Business and voice-assisted controls. The system will also use its Azure cloud platform and, the companies said, make use of Microsoft's AI and IoT technology.

"Globally, the auto industry is experiencing a seismic shift as the definition of automobiles is increasingly changing from gas-powered vehicles to technology-packed, connected devices," Ola CEO Bhavish Aggarwal said in a statement.

"With Ola Play, we have already set the tone for connected vehicles in India; together with Microsoft, we can make the new platform available to a larger, global audience and unlock futuristic experiences for customers worldwide," Aggarwal, who once worked at Microsoft, added.

The deal was announced at the India Today Conclave event

It makes sense for Ola to strike partners to equip cars in India with its entertainment tech. It not only gives the brand name elevation but it makes more cares potential Ola rides with a higher passenger experience -- but expanding outside of India isn't an obvious move at first take.

Ola isn't in process of looking for market expansions since it is duking the ride-sharing war out with Uber, which has prioritized India as its key markets outside of the U.S..

So what then?

The company pay potentially look at licensing the technology out overseas and thereby drawing a new line of revenue for its business, one source close to Ola told TechCrunch.

Exact details aren't clear at this point, but TechCrunch understands that the first partnership announcements are in the pipeline and Ola believes that its solution -- build from the perspective of a company with skin in the in-car entertainment game -- can offer a better option than existing systems, which focus on software.

Ola Play will also be positioned as a platform that auto makers and tech companies alike can build on. That could allow it to be customized to local markets, potentially sweetening the proposition for auto makers.

It's an ambitious move and one that again shows that ride-sharing players are looking to go beyond the business of rides and into adjacent areas where they believe can add value and boost their business.

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