Telematics West Coast – Day 1: Apps Are Not the Answer

After a few years going gaga for in-car apps, the industry is coming up for breath and noticing two things: the consumer experience still isn't that great and adoption isn't that much.

Maybe the answer isn't more apps, it's fewer but better apps – better in the sense of doing what's expected and doing it quickly. "Automotive apps should start up in two seconds," more than one speaker said.

In fact, David Taylor, director of connected services at Panasonic, and CTO and managing director of AUPEO, doesn’t believe consumers demand apps at all. "An app is just a way of delivering a service, and that service depends on where you are and what you're doing," he said. "The lesson from CE isn't that there are a million apps in the app store."

He pointed out that people tend to stream content from their phones instead of using in-car streaming apps, because the latter are too slow and too hard to get started. "Maybe," he said, "in-car apps belong in a custom framework, like insurance telematics apps." He advised automakers to focus on a few use cases in the car: entertainment, navigation, searches; and communication. "The solution is not to focus on being everything to everyone but getting back to core experiences and getting them right."

He presented consumer survey results from Edison Research that showed:

  • 74 percent want streaming in the car
  • 41 percent want to pause and rewind radio in the car
  • 100 percent want faster streaming startup

Rick Kreifeldt, vice president of research and innovation for Harman, shared stats from Arbitron/Edison showing that listening to HD radio accounts for only 1 percent of radio listening in the car, while online radio is 4 percent, compared to Am/FM radio at 58 percent. "[Terrestrial] radio listening will remain the primary usage in cars unless the industry makes streaming access simple," he said.

Part of the problem is simply replicating internet radio within the car, he said. While the selling point on the desktop and phone is access to thousands of different stations, someone who's driving doesn't have the attention necessary to sort through so many stations. He envisioned a service that would suggest stations based on the driver's established preferences and mood, as inferred by genres he's chosen. Here's where OEMs can add value to third-party services, Kreifeldt said.

Why apps don't work better

It may not be fair to ask why in-car apps can't be as good as smartphone apps – or maybe it's just the wrong question. The smartphone ecosystem makes it relatively easy for developers to publish apps and let consumers sort them out. Crappy apps just get deleted after trial. On the other hand, in-car apps must be carefully validated and safe.

Nevertheless, the telematics industry could take some tips from CE. For example, according to Kreifeldt, app makers should use A/B testing for all the elements of their interfaces – just like phone app developers do.

Katherine Bose, director of business development for TripAdvisor, said that her company constantly tests colors, placements and graphics for its app.

João Silva, senior systems architect for General Motors, gave a sobering presentation illustrating the extreme complexity of today's cars. With more lines of code than fighter jets, cars have to navigate a much wider variety of conditions and environments, while moving in close proximity to other vehicles and objects. The multi-core, multi-operating-systems, multi-network environments of cars supporting advanced infotainment, to say nothing of advanced safety features, requires new automotive architectures that automakers are still designing.

Voice controls are getting much better, but the car is a much more difficult environment than most. Bret Scott, future technologies lead at Chrysler, said, "You can ask a question to your phone and get a reasonable answer. In the grocery store, it's okay if it's not the right answer. But at 70 miles per hour, frustration at the wrong answer can lead to distraction. We have phones in the car with voice recognition services that aren't quite ready for 70 miles per hour."

There's still tension, moreover, between automotive OEMs wanting to brand their experiences through the HMI versus providing the optimal user experience. For example, more standardized infotainment HMIs could be easier for consumers to operate once they learned the paradigm. But Henry Bzeih, head of telematics and infotainment, and chief technologist, Kia Motors, said that could only happen in a utopia. In reality, some OEMs view the HMI as a way to differentiate. With Kia's sister brand, Hyundai, he said, "We tried not to standardize because we don't want to be cookie-cutting. The user experience is one of the ways you can differentiate. It's a complex question with no simple answer."

But maybe there's a middle way, said Geoff Weathersby, director of product management for Novatel Wireless. Over time, he said, the market – or individual companies in the market – may standardize toward general best practices for user interface design. "The new generations of vehicle are driven by the successes of the past, and those will drive toward best practices." If that's true, he added, the question still remains, where should OEMs then wander away from those best practices in order to maintain differentiation?

Cars in the internet of things

There's plenty of excitement about the car taking its place among the internet of things – and it's as much about gathering useful data from the car as it is in sending information to the car. As Michael Cavaretta, data scientist and manager of the predictive analytics group in Ford's research and engineering department, put it, "There are changing demographics and a changing mobility environment that the industry needs to get in front of." He sees cars not as ends in themselves, but as "intelligent devices to support mobility overall."

Frost & Sullivan forecasts a global big-data market worth $122.6 billion in 2025, with plenty of good business models for harnessing this data. "In an ideal situation, you need to create value propositions for drivers, dealers, OEMs and the environment," said Praveen Chandrasekar, automotive market analyst. He noted some early success stories, including a smart parking pilot that reduced parking congestion in peak hours by 22 percent and off-peak by 12 percent.

A test project with BMW and IBM using predictive asset optimization reduced warranty cases by 5 percent, saving 3 million Euros. In a few years this could improve to 15 percent, according to Chandrasekar, who said, "This is the biggest opportunity in the next five years."

The key challenges, according to Chandrasekar, are figuring out which is the relevant data and prioritizing that. Other questions that OEMs and others are pondering, he said, are what's the acceptable level of data quality and how much should they sell their data for?

Other examples of the big data flowing both ways include real-time weather and road conditions provided by Baron Services, which uses a network of satellites, radars and other data sources to determine, for example, if a particular stretch of road is likely to flood during the current rainstorm; and INRIX, provider of real-time traffic information that's crowd-sourced.

Apple and Google vs. OEMs

Should automakers give the people what they want, even if that's Siri and iPhone apps? Or should they keep trying to wrest some of that consumer love for their own brands? Apple and Google are a fact of life in the CE world, and some automakers are giving them a warmer welcome than others.

Bzeih of Kia said, that no one buys a car because it has a branded feature, such as a Bose stereo. On the other hand, he said, featuring a technology brand like Apple or Google can make marketers' jobs easier, because the tech giants have strong brand images.

This question is part of a bigger debate about whether the car is a connected device in itself, or whether it's merely the conduit for smartphone apps, according to Chris Ruff, CEO of UIEvolution, maker of middleware for automotive apps and services." I have a problem thinking that a $45,000 car will have an Apple interface," he says. "We haven't done our jobs if the car isn't the unique, special thing it's always been."


For all the latest telematics trends, check out Telematics Munich 2014 on November 10-11 in Munich, Germany, Connected Fleets USA on November 20-21 in Atlanta, USA, the Consumer Telematics Show 2015, January 5 in Las Vegas and Insurance Telematics Europe, April 14-15 in London, UK,   

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *