Digital In-Car Companions Must be Useful Beyond the Cabin

The current in-car concierge experience is a mixed-bag of smartphone capabilities often tied into Apple’s CarPlay or Google’s Android Auto platform.

As consumers begin to demand more intuitive, meaningful experiences from their connected cars, automakers will have to start taking a more serious look at how to drive adoption and increase user satisfaction. Michael Ramsey, Gartner vice-president and analyst for automotive and smart mobility, said car manufacturers should be focused on the experience first and the experience will lead to monetization but not necessarily in the way that they want.

So far, he says, automakers are making the experience of even setting up connected car services needlessly difficult, with irreplaceable PIN numbers that can be easily thrown away by unsuspecting owners or barriers to re-formatting systems for used car buyers. “There are a huge number of things like that that car companies just fail to execute,” he said. “The car companies are always going towards adding features and capabilities but, over and over again, our research shows uniqueness does not drive satisfaction. What drives satisfaction is that it works, it’s easy to use and it gets easier to use. That’s the problem in the auto industry, the stuff doesn’t work and it’s not easy to use.”

Ramsey said that while automakers have made progress in improving things like Bluetooth connectivity, what’s not mature is the services on offer and car companies still want to wall their garden off to make sure Apple and Google don’t get all the credit. He is of the opinion that it’s impossible for carmakers to scale to the level of capabilities these companies enjoy. “Each of these individual solutions are already available in the average car but, to make them truly personalized, the vehicle requires an ‘intelligent’ system or service that can understand how each occupant interacts with these services,” Lynn Longo, Harman International’s senior vice-president of connected car, digital cockpit, told TU-Automotive.

She explained that with the help of this technology, navigation, entertainment and commercial offerings can learn to behave in a way that the user expects, similar to their existing relationships with entertainment or commerce on their smartphone or personal computer. For example, the in-car navigation service should be able to learn what routes the driver is likely to use to travel to a frequent location and then suggest that route as the default in the future, unless there is some issue, such as traffic congestion or construction works, that would cause an unexpected delay.

From an entertainment perspective, the car could more accurately personalize the music played when entering the car in a variety of ways, depending on whether the driver is alone or with a passenger or two. “The car can learn from past behaviors to choose whether the music comes from a broadcast source, tethered mobile device, or favorite streaming service, and even decide whether a podcast, playlist, or audio book is appropriate in particular situations,” she noted.

Ramsey said he expects that process towards personalization to be “slow and tortured” but for the automakers who can successfully integrate third party platforms with unique brand experiences, doing it right will make them stand out. “Making it super easy for me to say, go online and connected to a new app that gives me some sort of new service. That is the kind of thing that will drive satisfaction,” he said.

When it comes to safety, Longo noted it’s “incredibly important” to develop a user interaction model that doesn’t distract drivers from the task of operating the car. This often means a careful balance between mechanical buttons, touch screens, voice control, gestures and haptics so that the driver can accomplish what they are trying to do with no distraction. The trick is to balance that with an intuitive system that can deliver the expected outcome, which increases adoption and satisfaction. “The goal is to match the occupant’s expectation with what they would have chosen themselves, thus making them feel that the car is learning their preferences and, proactively, is configured to match those preferences,” Longo said.

Ramsey also noted carmakers need to create platforms that allow third party services into the vehicle on the owners behalf, be it entertainment or insurance, and that they control the experience, not the car company. Through this model, the service providers have to pay to access the data and the service provider charges the car owner.

“Consumers are willing to pay for convenience but only as long as there is a commensurate value,” Longo agreed. “If it starts getting too expensive, adoption slows measurably, particularly in areas where innovation may take them outside their normal scope of interaction, like an in-car personal assistant.”

She said that as an industry, carmakers, Tier 1s and partners alike, have to demonstrate the usefulness of in-car companions throughout the vehicle experience, and connect with drivers’ and passengers’ daily life, even outside the vehicle, to grab their attention and business.

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