Welcome to a Throwback Thursday, and a blog post that resonates powerfully today. I've turned the clock back five years to February of 2017. I had just returned from both CES and a NABA Symposium where car guru, Roger Lanctot, presented. Yes, it's fascinating to learn that the issues involving the car back then haven't changed much. There was plenty of mayhem in the dashboard then – just as there still is today.
That reality was driven home by a New York Times article that ran last weekend: “As Automakers Add Technology to Cars, Software Bugs Follow.” The story focused on a growing series of class action suits filed by aggravated car owners. Oftentimes, their complaints are pointed at Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
While car manufacturers have no real control over how software updates designed to modernize these ecosystems are causing mayhem in the way these dashboards perform, angry drivers are blaming them anyway.
Speaking of mayhem, if you detect any weirdness in the Seattle PPM February monthly, you might be able to blame it on faulty Mazda dashboards. This week, a story in GeekWire broke that infotainment systems on Mazda's manufactured between 2014 and 2017 are stuck on public radio station KUOW. As I'm writing this, there does not appear to be a “fix” to this radio dilemma.
And this sort of dashboard “mayhem' is precisely what connects this classic blog post to today, featuring one of the best TV ads in the Allstate Insurance series.
Whatever you do, keep our eyes on the road! – FJ
The last decade has been an important one for the auto industry. And we’re not just talking about the recession that nearly put General Motors and Chrysler out of business.
Consider that just ten years ago, it would have been illogical to see automakers at an event like CES. After all, what did cars have to do with the consumer electronics industry, the realm of brands like Microsoft, Intel, and Samsung?
But as technology began to transform the dashboard, the landscape of media and entertainment in cars changed with it. Ford’s SYNC platform was the early pioneer in the space, preceded by GM’s On-Star, which back in the day was an emergency services tool. You contacted On-Star when you were locked out of your car. You punched up SYNC when you paired your phone or started using embedded apps on your touchscreen.
The Ford SYNC system in the early years was rugged, eventually paving the way for smoother, more intuitive driver experiences. SYNC’s voice command system was crude, often frustrating consumers. At the NAB Radio Show a few years back, Strategy Analytics’ Roger Lanctot played a video of a first-time SYNC user struggling to perform a simple voice command task: tuning in a radio station. As someone who bought a Ford with one of the early SYNC systems, I could relate.
It hurt Ford in those all-important J.D. Power ratings. Dashboard complaints brought Ford's numbers down year after year. As many in the automotive industry quietly noted, “Ford took one for the team.” By being first in the space, they paid the price, while helping other automakers – OEMs – figure out the space.
At last week's NABA Symposium in Washington, D.C., Roger was once again on stage, playing updated videos showing an improved dashboard user experience, but still pointing out some of the same nagging interface problems that persist.
And to put a point on that, there's a new “Mayhem” commercial for Allstate that makes the “connected car” look like technology that could kill us at the next intersection. For automakers, this is their worst nightmare.
But the reality is that the dashboard user experience – or UX – is gradually changing for the better. Ford has led the way with SYNC 3, a simplified, intuitive interface with clear labels that even the most technophobe drivers can handle. And I’ve noticed in car rentals over the past year or so, the interface is generally more intuitive. In many cases, it’s become easy to pair my phone, tune in my client station (and the competition), and preset them all before I leave the rent-a-car lot.
At that same NABA Symposium, Audi’s Manager of Connected Vehicles, Anupam (Pom) Malhotra, told the audience, “I want to give my customer all the options in an easy to use interface. Listen to what you want when you want.” And more and more, that's what consumers are demanding.
As the Allstate commercial suggests, part of the safety issue in new cars revolves around touch screen distraction. But as Pom reminded the room, whether you’re a fan of knobs or not, carmakers are fixated on Millennials – young consumers who have grown up with touch screens – and no buttons.
And he listed the four biggest trends in the auto industry, and they all have implications for radio:
- Shared mobility
Roger’s company, Strategy Analytics, has documented the importance of that trend at the top of his list – connectivity – whether it creates mayhem or not:
It's fascinating that just about everyone values automotive connectivity – but at what price?
Creating a safer and less frustrating experience has truly been the focus of every automaker, as well as Tier 1 companies like Panasonic, Pioneer, and Visteon – all of whom we spent time with at CES.
Roger's take on the dashboard experience is that “it's getting better, easier – while simultaneously more complex…It's a vast experiment with some small successes here and there.”
His colleague, Chris Schreiner, director of User Experience Practice, also notes that it's often one step forward and one step back:
“Yes, it is getting better…but as always there is still a way to go. It's always an internal struggle within OEMs between those that understand how to optimize the consumer experience and those that favor style and visual design.”
And as for dashboard danger, Roger offers up a different way to think about the interface:
“Glance time is the new metric. The old-fashioned radio gave you no reason to glance – that is the benchmark.”
Thanks to Chuck DuCoty for the heads up on the “Mayhem” spot.
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