Infotainment systems, long a selling-point in consumer advertising by automakers, have reached a point beyond which basic information and entertainment can be easily accessed and operated. Consumers are now faced with a confusing array of features, touch-surfaces, “button-farms” and menu hierarchies that have added operational complexity beyond the comprehension of many people.
The source of this complexity? According to a discussion panel at the recent SAE World Congress titled “The In-Car Experience — What Does the Consumer Really Want,” automakers have become obsessed with technology to the degree that they have sacrificed intuitiveness and are alienating their customer base with unnecessary features that might not ever be used.
“Vehicles on the road today are overladen with tools,” said David Lyon, a former General Motors interiors designer who also claims that car companies need a “features intervention” that will allow them to better understand how people operate their vehicles. This will, in turn, identify features that are not likely to be used by drivers and provide guidance to automakers on which features to remove.
Fierce competition between automakers has spawned a “culture of incrementalism,” according to Andrew Hart of consultancy company SBD. “Technology is moving so fast that carmakers often design new systems before they understand what works and doesn’t work with their current systems.”
Consumers have spoken up loudly of their bewilderment with today’s infotainment systems and have cited these systems as a primary area of criticism. In response, automakers such as Honda have been collaborating much more closely with developers in the design and functionality of their next-generation infotainment systems. Still others have made the strategic decision to outsource basic infotainment system design to Apple and Google, albeit at an incredibly slow pace.
The SAE panel made an interesting, if not practical, observation as to why more automakers are leaving infotainment system development to the experts. “It’s surprising how many people at OEMs don’t know how their [infotainment] systems work,” SBD’s Hart noted. “That’s in sharp contrast to companies such as Apple and Google, where employees are the best advertisements for their products.”
Taking a cue from how Apple and Google continually meet consumer expectation, David Taylor, CTO of Aupeo and director of connected services at Panasonic Automotive Systems Co. of America, urged car makers to follow three principles when designing in-car systems: Make them fast, easy and intuitive. The panelists agreed and added that most drivers do not need the vast collection of feature choices offered by automakers of late, and that those choices are not only confusing but can be quite distracting.
Automakers such as Jaguar Land Rover clearly agree. Late last year, the company announced plans to win over urban dwellers in Europe who are more attracted to their smartphones than to their vehicles. Their strategy? Making the vehicles more intelligent, personalized and connected. By crafting the priority of features and functions through customization, JLR is mitigating the impact of having too many feature choices by allowing the driver to decide and to put those features in easy reach.
As automakers continue to struggle to compete for the business of increasingly connected consumers, practical measures need to be put into place that will avoid the complexity that many of today’s infotainment systems represent. The suggestions from SAE World Congress have put automakers on notice: Use technology to enhance the in-car experience and remember that complexity is a bug, not a feature.
Source: Are automakers addicted to in-car features overload? – Automotive News