Toyota Friend will offer Toyota owners a number of interesting 'perks' that could help to set it apart from giants like Facebook. The social network is intended to debut with the next generation of electric vehicles being offered by the brand in Japan in 2012, and as such it will offer a high level of integration into the software of these battery-powered hybrids and EVs. For example, automobiles will be able to send what Toyota describes as a 'tweet-like' message to smart phones, tablets and other mobile devices registered to vehicle owners in order to let them know that their charge is getting low. Toyota Friend can also connect with dealerships in order to provide diagnostic information and even contact other Toyota drivers while out on the road.
Powering the Toyota Friend network will be the Chatter platform, which was developed by Salesforce.com. This continues the automaker's strategy of partnering with established technology vendors instead of looking in-house to develop proprietary communications solutions for its automobiles. According to an article published by Information Week, Toyota has a similar partnership with Microsoft, whose code underpins both the Entune infotainment system set to debut with the 2012 Toyota Prius v and the app development platform (Microsoft Azure) that Toyota plans to use for the creation of cloud computing applications. These are intended to allow for the further integration of smart phones with remote vehicle functions and potentially facilitate communications between the automobile and the home (turn on and off lights, set DVR timers, etc).
Toyota intends for the Toyota Friend social network to help drivers to not only create a stronger bond with their cars and the Toyota brand, but also to help them connect with each other. Although the effort is a valiant one, the fact that the Toyota Friend network will be private, open only to Toyota owners, could hamper its growth and universal acceptance. This is particularly true given that Toyota Friend will be competing against an extremely wide range of well-established and public online services that essentially already provide much of the same functionality.
Toyota says that Toyota Friend users will be able to 'extend' their social media experience to connect with others through Twitter and Facebook, but the question then becomes why would a Toyota owner bother with a Toyota Friend account in the first place if they are already heavily invested in another social network that can be just as easily accessed via their mobile device. It would appear that Toyota Friend will face the same challenge faced by all other similar online communities: achieving a 'critical mass' of users that makes participation in the network appealing. If Toyota owners will be primarily interacting with other Toyota owners through Toyota Friend - outside of Scion and the Prius, a demographic not typically associated with substantial brand enthusiasm - then the network could be facing an uphill battle.