Q&A: Designing in-vehicle infotainment for the non-premium car owner

A Renault veteran of 25 years, Bonbon is responsible for the ADAS, telematics and multimedia engineering department. He has worked on the Visio driver assistance system, the Media Nav navigation service and, now, R-Link, Renault’s foray into app-based, in-vehicle infotainment (IVI).

Launched late last year, R-Link is Europe’s first major IVI system based on Android. Being tablet-like in function and appearance, it is also an example of consumer electronics shaping the in-vehicle connected experience. For now, it is standard on Renault ZOE and New Clio Renault Sport. And it is available as a €590 option across most of Renault's other passenger models, including New Clio, New Clio Estate, Captur and New Kangoo. 

Bonbon spoke to TU's Jan Stojaspal about some of the many cost and user experience considerations that went into designing R-Link.

(For more on app-based IVIs, see Content & Apps for Automotive Europe: Beyond the app storeMaking the most of the app opportunity, part I and Making the most of the app opportunity, part II.)

How does one go about designing an in-vehicle infotainment system for the non-premium car owner?
When we embarked on this project, we said we must have the best at the lowest price. It means to have an open and flexible software architecture that we can afford – Android, in our case – and hardware that is tried and tested.

Having the latest technology does not always mean that it’s the best technology for the job at hand. And it is particularly true when you are trying to optimize the performance of a system consisting of many constituent parts. You can have the latest 3G modem, but it may not work well with other components, for example.

As a result, we are using a 2G modem with a high coverage and global performance. We are using Bluetooth technology to connect to mobile devices and stream music from them. And we opted for a resistive instead of a capacitative touch screen. 

That can help you manage costs. But are your customers willing to settle for lower tech?

When you see people using the R-Link system, they are saying, ‘Wow, it‘s great.‘ They don’t pay attention to the underlying technology. To them, it’s not a question of 2G or 3G. It’s, ‘Hey, I have 50 apps to choose from.‘

The app offering is going to be extremely diverse.

You can choose from among many practical apps, such as fuel prices, traffic information or Yellow Pages. Or you can have a dedicated app called R-Sound Effect, which lets you change the engine sound. You can choose the sound of a rally car, the sound of a 1930s Renault or the sound of a flying saucer. It’s extremely funny.

So the approach is of technology following function.

Yes. We never speak about technical questions. We talk about outcomes we want for the customer. This approach makes it a much easier sell to the mass market.

Everybody understands that you buy an iPad, and then you buy apps to enrich it. It’s the same with the car. You buy a car, and then you buy apps to enrich it. People understand this immediately.

Try telling them about this very interesting technological innovation that we have and that it’s called the connected car. That takes you into a very complicated explanation. And, sooner or later, people are going to say, ‘So what?‘

Does it also help to have a system that is built around Android? Does that make it that much more accessible for the customer?

Yes, of course. As soon as you say Android, 50% of people are thinking, ‘Oh, I am interested.‘

We know it's very early days, but how do you gather data on consumer demand and usage to develop or change the service?

We just launched the system, and we don't have enough feedback from our customers yet.  But we monitor customer activity through yield management, and we look for ways to optimizme the best applications to customers needs, as is frequently done in the telco industry.  

Still, whatever the solution is, it must be extremely simple for the customer. For us, it’s very innovative. But for them it must be as simple as, ‘I want a new app, and so I go and buy it.‘

Jan Stojaspal is the editor of Telematics Update.

For all the latest telematics trends, check out V2V & V2I for Auto Safety USA 2013 on July 9-10 in Novi, MI, Insurance Telematics USA 2013 on September 4-5 in Chicago, Telematics Russia 2013 in September in Moscow, Telematics LATAM 2013 in September in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Telematics Japan 2013 on October 8-10 in Tokyo and Telematics Munich 2013 on November 11-12.

For exclusive telematics business analysis and insight, check out TU’s reports: Telematics Connectivity Strategies Report 2013The Automotive HMI Report 2013Insurance Telematics Report 2013 and Fleet & Asset Management Report 2012.

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