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Saturday, June 7, 2014

Drivers Want Access to a Limited Number of Apps in Their Cars

As reported by Computerworld: Drivers are tiring of automakers embedding apps into their cars, the main complaint being that they only want essential apps that work as well as the ones on their smartphones, according to new research.

The research, presented by automotive market research firm SBD, was buttressed by the views of people in a focus group involving 46 people, six of whom participated in a panel at the Telematics Detroit conference here this week.

The focus group, identified by first name only, overwhelmingly chose two functions that they wanted in a car's infotainment system -- navigation and music. Everything else was seen as either a convenience or a dangerous distraction.
Tesla instrument panel
The Tesla infotainment system was popular among test users in a focus group at Telematics Detroit.
(Photo: Lucas Mearian/Computerworld)
Each driver was given an hour to experiment with six car infotainment systems from each of the leading car manufacturers plus Tesla Motors, the electric car maker.
"Music and where am I going. Everything else is about driving. Safety... that's what I'm most concerned with," said Megan, one of the panelists. "All this other stuff seams OK, but it's very distracting."

Having Google Search embedded in a car topped the list of features the drivers said they wanted because it was fast, intuitive and worked every time.

"There's just so many things you can do with it," said Neal, another panelist. "The information is instant. There's no lag time. And, it saves so much time."

Neal said he likes using Google Search and navigation on his smartphone rather than on his car's telematics system because the car always takes longer to find a location and often offers 10 or more search results that aren't related to the desired destination.

The second most popular app among the drivers on the panel was Pandora, the Internet radio and music streaming service. Most complained that the SiriusXM satellite radio service offered with new cars has stations with repetitive music playlists. Pandora, on the other hand, learns a user's preferences or allows them to be customized while still offering an endless variety of music, the drivers said.

"Does Pandora run for free in cars?" Neal asked. "I'd love to have Pandora, but I don't want to pay a premium to have it stream into the car. I have a phone I can use for that."

Andrew Hart, head of advanced research at SBD, said automakers choose the wrong apps to embed in their cars because, in the rush to catch up with smartphones and tablets, they forget about usability and responsiveness.

Today, there are 173 apps developed by automotive manufacturers that have been embedded in cars in the U.S., according to Hart.

The SBD focus group was made up of 46 U.S. drivers who'd purchased a car in the past year. The divers were split into two groups and asked to try infotainment systems in three premium cars and four mass consumer cars.

In the premium group was the Mercedes-Benz S-Class Command Infotainment system, the Porsche PCM infotainment system and the Tesla Model S infotainment system, which is based on the Linux OS.

In the mass consumer group of vehicles was the Dodge Ram 1500's Uconnect infotainment system, the Nissan Altima's NissanConnect infotainment system, and the Honda Civic's HondaLink (Next Generation) infotainment system.

The focus group was asked to complete three tasks: Find a radio station, navigate home, and find a pizza shop.

Only 40% were able to complete the simple tasks on the infotainment systems. The remaining 60% "got lost while navigating through the maze of different features," according to SBD.

Hart said the study revealed there are four categories of car infotainment systems. They are: Systems that provide both embedded and mobile apps; systems with apps that typically don't work well or fast enough to be used by drivers; systems with apps that are difficult to use; and systems with apps that distract and create safety issues.
The NissanConnect infotainment system (Photo: Nissan)

"As an industry, we're striving to develop Swiss Army knives instead of the spoons our customers want," Hart said. 

Even car dealers struggle to explain to new car owners how infotainment systems work, according to Hart. "There are too many complexities," he said. "And if we can't educate the dealers, we definitely can't educate the consumer."

Tesla, which used a Linux-based operating system for its infotainment system, ranked high in terms of usability among drivers.

Those on the user panel said the Tesla infotainment system was the easiest and "most intuitive" to use.

"We were very enamored with the Tesla. Not being tech-savvy, I found the icons were huge and easy to use while driving and while parked," said Tina, another focus group member. "It was a fascinating system to me, and I'd seek that one out [as a car buyer]."

The panel of drivers had mixed feelings about the idea of Wi-Fi in a car. Some said they would like to be able to work from their cars or stream live entertainment for passengers, while others said that being connected 24 hours a day wasn't necessary.  

The focus group also had mixed feelings about in-car infotainment platforms that allow drivers to sync or pair their smartphones. Some liked the idea of having the most up-to-date technology and apps available through onboard telematics, while others said it pigeonholed them.

Ford Motor Co., the first manufacturer to offer in-car apps via drivers' smartphones, with its SYNC AppLink technology, has a system that allows drivers to download apps from the iTunes App Store, Google Play or BlackBerry App World into the car's head unit.

AppLink started out with a few radio and location-based services, but Ford has expanded it to include dozens of such services. Earlier this year, Ford announced four more integrations: Parkopedia, a parking space finder; Parkmobile, an app that allows drivers to use their smartphones to pay for parking; Pulse, an ADT security app; and an app for ordering from Domino's Pizza.

MirrorLink, a service that provides connectivity between a smartphone and a car's infotainment system, is also being adopted by many auto manufacturers. Additionally, Apple's CarPlay and Google's Automotive Link allow pairing of smartphones with car infotainment systems.  

"I like that idea," said Neal. "You're personalizing it. My phone will always be as up to date as possible."

Neal said he had recently downloaded an app called 'Find My Car' that can locate his parked vehicle using GPS technology. "There are so many features on your phone that you can't build into a car," Neal added.

However, some people in the focus group noted that smartphones can be lost, leaving a driver without a navigation system. They said cars should always have an embedded app for navigation.

Moreover, people tend to replace their smartphones every two years or so, and when you get a new phone you may have to completely reconfigure your infotainment system in order to use the new apps.

"To me, [Apple's] iOS 7 is not as good as the last iOS, so that lowered my confidence in how well the software is working," Mark said. "If iOS 8 is as bad as iOS 7, I may want to migrate to Android. Then you have to migrate your car to Android."