Telematics Watch

Enough with all the apps in my car! say drivers

Drivers just want navigation and music apps for cars; more gets too complex and distracting

DETROIT -- Drivers are tiring of automakers embedding apps into their cars, the main complaint being that they only want essential apps that work as well as the ones on their smartphones, according to new research.

The research, presented by automotive market research firm SBD, was buttressed by the views of people in a focus group involving 46 people, six of whom participated in a panel at the Telematics Detroit conference here this week.

The focus group, identified by first name only, overwhelmingly chose two functions that they wanted in a car's infotainment system -- navigation and music. Everything else was seen as either a convenience or a dangerous distraction.

Tesla instrument panel
The Tesla infotainment system was popular among test users in a focus group at Telematics Detroit. (Photo: Lucas Mearian/Computerworld)

Each driver was given an hour to experiment with six car infotainment systems from each of the leading car manufacturers plus Tesla Motors, the electric car maker.

"Music and where am I going. Everything else is about driving. Safety... that's what I'm most concerned with," said Megan, one of the panelists. "All this other stuff seams OK, but it's very distracting."

Having Google Search embedded in a car topped the list of features the drivers said they wanted because it was fast, intuitive and worked every time.

"There's just so many things you can do with it," said Neal, another panelist. "The information is instant. There's no lag time. And, it saves so much time."

Neal said he likes using Google Search and navigation on his smartphone rather than on his car's telematics system because the car always takes longer to find a location and often offers 10 or more search results that aren't related to the desired destination.

The second most popular app among the drivers on the panel was Pandora, the Internet radio and music streaming service. Most complained that the SiriusXM satellite radio service offered with new cars has stations with repetitive music playlists. Pandora, on the other hand, learns a user's preferences or allows them to be customized while still offering an endless variety of music, the drivers said.

"Does Pandora run for free in cars?" Neal asked. "I'd love to have Pandora, but I don't want to pay a premium to have it stream into the car. I have a phone I can use for that."

Andrew Hart, head of advanced research at SBD, said automakers choose the wrong apps to embed in their cars because, in the rush to catch up with smartphones and tablets, they forget about usability and responsiveness.

Today, there are 173 apps developed by automotive manufacturers that have been embedded in cars in the U.S., according to Hart.

The SBD focus group was made up of 46 U.S. drivers who'd purchased a car in the past year. The divers were split into two groups and asked to try infotainment systems in three premium cars and four mass consumer cars.

In the premium group was the Mercedes-Benz S-Class Command Infotainment system, the Porsche PCM infotainment system and the Tesla Model S infotainment system, which is based on the Linux OS.

In the mass consumer group of vehicles was the Dodge Ram 1500's Uconnect infotainment system, the Nissan Altima's NissanConnect infotainment system, and the Honda Civic's HondaLink (Next Generation) infotainment system.

The focus group was asked to complete three tasks: Find a radio station, navigate home, and find a pizza shop.

Only 40% were able to complete the simple tasks on the infotainment systems. The remaining 60% "got lost while navigating through the maze of different features," according to SBD.

Hart said the study revealed there are four categories of car infotainment systems. They are: Systems that provide both embedded and mobile apps; systems with apps that typically don't work well or fast enough to be used by drivers; systems with apps that are difficult to use; and systems with apps that distract and create safety issues.

NissanConnect
The NissanConnect infotainment system (Photo: Nissan)

"As an industry, we're striving to develop Swiss Army knives instead of the spoons our customers want," Hart said.

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