How to Keep the Customer Content with Infotainment

In November 2022 delegates at Autotech: Digital Economy – a webinar series by the Informa Tech Automotive Group – heard why infotainment is considered an invaluable opportunity for content providers to build market share “prior to the fully autonomous vehicle in-car entertainment era”.

This period will see the increasing integration of navigation, voice control, app stores, payment services and in-car entertainment services with the aim of capturing a potentially lucrative market by enhancing the in-vehicle customer experience with raised levels of customer and user satisfaction. This particular webinar, moderated by Christie Truett, principal analyst – Digital Economy, Wards Intelligence, was entitled Infotainment – Keeping the Customer Content. The panelist offering the perspectives of AGC Automotive Americas was Terence Yim, its strategic marketing leader. The discussion involved a conversation about, for example, whether customer will pay extra for widely used services, such as Netflix, Hulu or Spotify in their car, or would they be able to co-ordinate subscriptions. It also touched upon how to offer customers the best route to the provision of their preferred services through partnerships between automakers, telematics providers and streaming services.

The use of augmented reality (AR) heads-up displays was also on the table, particularly with regard to how it can be used to reduced driver distraction and to demonstrate potential future use-cases in autonomous vehicles. To continue the conversation about all of these topics, I spoke with Bruno Taratufolo, marketing and product strategy, AGC Glass Europe.

Integrating seamlessly

He explains that today software and streaming services are indeed integrating seamlessly for customers through APIs and partnerships. They are typically organized between content providers and in-car infotainment system manufacturers. “This allows for a unified and integrated user interface for accessing various services, such as music streaming, navigation, and payment, within the car,” he says.

The partnership ecosystem also enables the provision of over-the-air (OTA) updates to the infotainment systems, ensuring that the latest features and integrations are available to users. He adds: “The integration of these services aims to enhance the overall user experience and increase customer satisfaction.”

Major pain point

A key of consideration is to resolve the major driver pain point of how they can switch between different apps and services while driving and without taking their hands off the steering wheel or eyes off the road. The cure for this is to provide a single sign-on, voice control, an in-car app store with a variety of apps at the driver’s fingertips, the offer of personalized experience by using artificial intelligence and machine learning to learn about a driver’s favorite destinations, music preference, contacts and activities to make the driver experience tailored to each individual.

He adds that there needs to be a complete integration with automotive systems, allowing for communication with other systems in someone’s car. This may be climate control and lighting to make, he says, the “driving experience even smoother”. Then there is the provision of connected services with connectivity to the internet for real-time traffic updates and weather forecasts to increase the convenience of a driver’s trips and to reduce driving stress.

Software-defined car

Jack Palmer, senior consultant with European Mobility & Transportation Team, Frost & Sullivan, joined the conversation and says there has been much talked about the software-defined car for the past three to four years. Gaming has been particularly trendy, certainly at the annual gathering at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. He elaborates: “This feeds into the idea that the vehicle is the living room on wheels. There may be cases for streaming when an [electric or hybrid] car is charging but you can’t do this in the front seat until the vehicle has stopped. So, it’s a rear seat entertainment play.”

The use case in his opinion isn’t so strong because, for now at least, the watching of anything visual such as a movie in a car or gaming is going be reserved for passengers to avoid driver distraction. The integration of software and streaming services may also end up being concentrated on “high spec cars for the near term”. That said, he adds: “I think Spotify, podcasts and Apple Music are well entrenched in the car as it runs well in the car and on smartphone. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are mature now. Video and gaming you have the driver distraction element, which can’t be overcome until we reach Level 3 of autonomy and beyond.”

Will customer pay extra?

Taratufolo thinks consumers will pay more for in-car access to popular services. However, Palmer warns that there may need to one payment across all devices, including smartphones and tablets. For example, Netflix offers multiple device logins and they have also launched a cheaper version with adverts.  He also warns that there was one automaker that tried to charge for Apple CarPlay but their customers didn’t like the idea: “Spotify, for example, is something we carry around on our phones and so consumers aren’t going to want to pay for any in-car integration.” What they want is what’s on their other devices without paying additional fees.

Nevertheless, Taratufolo comments: “Many car manufacturers and service providers are now offering bundled packages that include in-car access to popular services like Netflix, Hulu, and Spotify. With these packages, customers can coordinate their subscriptions and make one payment across their devices, including their in-car infotainment systems. Car manufacturers like Tesla are offering bundled packages that include in-car access as part of a broader subscription as the Tesla ‘premium connectivity’ package through which the consumer pays for the connectivity and infrastructure to be able to stream different services using a mobile network.”

The value proposition from the consumer’s perspective to have the ability to consider the car as a further mobile device where it is possible to stream different services through existing customer accounts. He thinks: “It is important that the OEM software offers the possibility to integrate different services. In the long term I see the bundled packages as one of the major recurrent revenue streams for the OEMs.”

Effective partnerships

The two industry experts seem to differ in their opinions about whether partnerships between telematics providers and streaming services is the best route to offering access to their preferred services. Palmer says he doesn’t think it’s the telematics providers’ domain: “You have a host of hidden solutions providers that the consumers will never see. There is investment in software in general and so the automakers will cherry-pick and they will need to facilitate the usage of all audio and video streaming, which they need to allow in the car. That’s why the Android Automotive Embedded System is so good. Having a closed ecosystem is not going to fly, you have to have an open ecosystem to have apps in the car. It’s realized that apps that are daily used on mobile devices need to replicated in the vehicle without costs and with a great user experience – one where there are no faults or bugs, or that can be distracting.”

Taratufolo, nevertheless, argues that partnerships between telematics providers and streaming services can offer customers a wider range of services and content. This can occur, he says, through a single and integrated platform. He elaborates: “This can simplify the user experience and make it easier for customers to access the services they prefer. Additionally, these partnerships can leverage the expertise and resources of both companies, leading to a higher-quality experience for the customer with a fast adoption rate thanks to the scale of the existing services.

“On the other hand, automakers that cherry-pick partners and build bespoke infotainment systems may have more control over the user experience and can tailor their systems to meet the specific needs and preferences of their customers. However, I see this trend for niche market segments because this approach can lead to a more personalized and differentiated user experience but will face fierce competition from large scale service and telematics providers. Ultimately, the best approach depends on the automaker’s goals and priorities.”

Augmented reality HUDs

Taratufolo says: “AR heads-up displays (HUDs) have the potential to reduce driver distraction by allowing drivers to access information and interact with the vehicle’s systems without having to take their eyes off the road. AR HUDs can project information, such as navigation instructions and speed, directly in the driver’s line of sight, reducing the need to look down at the dashboard or infotainment screen.”

Top of the priority list is to ensure that there is a significant level of field of view in the role that AR technology plays. He stresses that it needs to reflect the external environment. Depth of field is also crucial in AR HUDs as it’s a key metric “in determining how realistic the projected information is and how well it can be tracked by the driver’s eyes,” he explains.

Processing time is increased whenever the information is not synchronized with the driver’s line of sight. He therefore adds: “Even when considering Level 4 autonomous vehicles, it will be important that AR technology must integrate information from both internal and external environment to ultimately let the passenger become a driver and act in the event of imminent danger.” In fact, Taratufolo concludes that the ultimate goal is to reduce distraction and increase driver and passenger safety, while replicating the essential dashboard information and infotainment options across the windshield width, in front of driver’s eye line.

Palmer agrees that HUDs can reduce driver distraction, However, he warns in conclusion that they could also do the opposite by providing too much information which could confuse drivers. Sometimes this is about where the information is shown, how it is shown. So Palmer argues that it’s often a case of “less is more”. He says automakers are therefore “still learning how they can be used as we go through the different levels of autonomy”.

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