As smart devices infiltrate every facet of modern life, drivers now expect similar sophistication from their vehicles. By Christopher Dyer, Freddie Holmes & Jack Hunsley
Regardless of whether a company is working on a solution for connected, autonomous, shared or electric (CASE) mobility there remains one fundamental requirement for every product and service: it must work for consumers. An inability to create an enjoyable and effective user experience (UX) whether for an autonomous vehicle, electric vehicle (EV) charging or within an infotainment unit will not only deter consumers from investing but could place drivers at risk.
Enable a customised, personal experience
‘Automotive UX’ encompasses a broad array of systems and experiences, but most relate to connectivity development. The automotive industry has moved past the point where vehicle sales are the only revenue source. With the car becoming a smart device in itself, different add-ons can now be enabled throughout its usable life, effectively monetising parts of the car that once sat dormant.
Automakers have taken hints from the consumer electronics sector, but are still working out how to package, promote and sell these subscriptions. It is unclear, for example, whether the vehicle itself will serve as a payment interface, or whether services will be bought using a conventional web browser. With the cockpit becoming a digital nest populated by different touchscreens, there are plenty of opportunities to encourage impulse buys. Even the vehicle’s digital assistant—which can be summoned through voice control—might serve as a means to pay for new services. Biometrics is another avenue that has been explored in recent years but is yet to find any real foothold in the car. A fingerprint reader or eye scanner would seem an unlikely means of payment, but cannot be ruled out at this early stage.
Start-ups like Tesla are not only software-savvy but have already built software as a core pillar of their brand identity and offering
At the same time, vehicle developers must consider that not all cars will be used by the same driver—or passenger. With many cars now just as connected as any smartphone, users expect that their preferences can be loaded in seconds upon entering. This will range from simple things such as music and navigation syncing but could also extend to automatically adjusting the steering wheel or seat upon entry to a shared vehicle.
Some drivers may also prefer sections of the vehicle’s displays to be more prominent than others, meaning the instrument cluster should provide an element of flexibility and personalisation. For example, one driver may wish to have the remaining battery range and nearby charging stations highlighted while others might prioritise their music library as part of an entertainment-first configuration.
Given these vehicles might often be used for short trips or vacations, navigation may need to take centre stage. Rather than simply displaying directions on the main infotainment screen, digital arrows could be projected onto the road through augmented reality. In other cases, drivers will simply access a shared car once or twice a week, travelling to common destinations. Syncing their existing navigation apps—be it Google Maps, Waze, Apple Maps or any other service—will avoid having to type in complete addresses each time round. In any case, drivers should have the option to choose what suits them.
These are of course simple considerations, far from the ground-breaking changes seen elsewhere in the vehicle. However, ensuring that system preferences are easily adjustable to suit a wide array of different needs will go a long way to improving the UX in shared vehicles, helping to make customers feel more at home.
The importance of customisation will extend beyond just navigation, and will be aided by the arrival of over-the-air (OTA) updates and increased in-vehicle computing power. With consumers now accustomed to the speed and simplicity with which smartphone updates are distributed, automakers must ensure vehicles are updated in a similar manner. This functionality will be boosted via 5G’s rollout, which will allow for the necessary data to be both wirelessly sent and received at even greater speed.
Regularly updating in this manner is a huge undertaking for automakers and the industry, but it is littered with opportunities. Stakeholders are very accustomed to a vehicle’s residual value dropping indefinitely, from practically the moment it is driven off the lot. However, with OTA updates, there’s scope to add value back in, extending the vehicle’s useable lifespan and offering the opportunity to build a brand relationship with consumers. It will also allow OEMs flexibility should a wrong step be taken; though such errors should be avoided from the outset, OTA updates could allow players to rejig certain elements based on customer feedback.
Connectivity is not the only CASE trend that will necessitate a huge focus on the UX. Charging is a great example, especially given the industry’s move towards electrified powertrains.
Today, electric vehicle (EV) owners are often required to download numerous apps all with different payment mechanisms to ensure they have access to the whole array of available charging infrastructure. Streamlining this process with concepts such as e-Roaming—this sees charging stations from multiple brands brought under one banner—will go a long way to improving the charging experience and could help significantly in bringing more potential EV owners into the market.
There’s also scope to rethink how users charge. Different solutions, such as battery swapping and wireless charging, could cut charging times and avoid users having to trail heavy cables across driveways and pavements. These concepts are being explored by suppliers and automakers alike to respond to growing concerns surrounding the convenience and availability of current infrastructure.
Though automotive stakeholders understand the importance of enabling the functionalities listed above, doing so will inevitably require external help. While new automakers have arrived with a software-first design philosophy from the get-go, incumbents are still laden with portfolios dominated by combustion engine-related products. Players will have to decide how much software expertise they can afford to bring in-house and, as an extension, how much are they willing to delegate to a Google, Microsoft or Amazon.
This is a decision that must be made quickly. Start-ups like Tesla are not only software-savvy but have already built software as a core pillar of their brand identity and offering. With the car quickly transitioning from being more than just a means of moving from A to B but extension of consumers’ technology-aided lives, failure to meet expectations is likely to tank brand loyalty. For the first time in decades, the automaker hierarchy is very much under threat.
With OTA updates, there’s scope to add value back in, extending the vehicle’s useable lifespan and offering the opportunity to build a brand relationship with consumers.
The stakes will grow even higher if the industry does fully transition to a shared mobility-dominated market. In such a future, the vehicle’s infotainment unit may well prove the only touchpoint OEMs have with the public at all. In this case, it will be vital that their brand stands front and centre, and that the connectivity-enabled offerings that lie within function seamlessly.
Again, these players are likely to need help in enabling such an offering and, as such, capable suppliers are likely to find success in offering an open approach to software. Some automakers will want to buy ‘plug and play’ solutions while others will simply want software development kits to define their path more granularly.
The building blocks for automotive’s software-defined future are already being laid today. And as the industry barrels towards a world where mechanical sophistication is trumped by software nuance, it is critical that company strategies are defined by user wants and whims.