If I were to ask you to picture a traveling businessman during the ‘80s, you’d probably be imagining a mullet-wearing guy in his ‘Miami Vice’ suit, talking to someone in his wired car phone while driving his convertible with the top down, right? Seeing a bulky phone (and a wired one, at that) may seem really funny today, but that’s how it was more than 3 decades ago. A car stereo back then also meant having an in-dash unit with frequency and volume dials as well as a deck for playing your favorite cassette tapes. And if you’re traveling cross-country or interstate, you’re probably going to need a map stashed somewhere in your car.
Fast forward to today and things are way too different… and easy. Today, an in-car infotainment system (also called in-car entertainment or ICE) gets things done for you. A tablet-style device or LCD screen installed in the car’s dashboard gives you the latest traffic update, helps you navigate through thoroughfares, lets you make important phone calls, and allows you to play your favourite tunes in just a few clicks. Heck, it can even function without you touching it, thanks to hands-free technology. In other words, everything you need and more while you’re in your car, you can achieve in just a click or voice command.
But as the market becomes more tech savvy and demanding, car makers really have no choice but to give in and adapt. Many people, especially businessmen, own smartphones. If you’re an entrepreneur whose business phone systems are integrated in your smartphone, you’d probably be looking for a vehicle with a system that will sync and work well with your handset. BMW was one of the early car manufacturers that integrated infotainment systems in their vehicles. Known as iDrive, the system was meant to provide assistance and entertainment to car owners. Unfortunately, iDrive was found to be too complex and counter-intuitive to use.
What people are really looking for is something that’s not only easy to use and navigate, but also very much compatible with their smartphones. But what would probably be even better is a system that has access to a cloud-based library so that one wouldn’t have to sync and juggle several different gadgets. Using Bluetooth technology to sync a smartphone to the infotainment system seems to be the current standard norm, but this can still be improved to simplify things even more.
Perhaps this is one thing that Windows and Apple can work on. Though each company is capable of developing an OS found by many to be useful, the user experience can still be drastically improved. Windows is a step ahead in the infotainment field since its Embedded Automotive 7 is already being used by several manufacturers (i.e. Fiat, Ford, Kia, and Nissan). But reports say that Apple is already hiring people to design an iCar Infotainment System. Meanwhile, other vehicles are already running on Android, although there are car manufacturers that are keeping mum on what or whose OS they’re using. Perhaps this is to avoid any stigma (good or bad) tied to the OS developer, and let attention fall solely on their brand as an automobile maker.
Whatever the choice and reasons behind such choice of infotainment system, car makers must give importance to this aspect of their vehicles, not just for marketing purposes but also for safety reasons. The better and more user-friendly a system is, the safer and more convenient the driving becomes. And that’s what great user experience is all about.