The in-app experience of tomorrow’s vehicles

When it comes to technological advancement in the automotive industry, we’re no longer just talking about the hardware shift from gas and petrol engines to hybrid and electric ones.

We’re also talking about digital advancements, the software shift creating connected cars and autonomous vehicles. And with this software evolution, a car’s infotainment system and dashboard apps are becoming an increasingly important part of the driving experience.

A large part of modern vehicles’ functionality is provided digitally, through apps. Connected from smartphones to in-car systems, many of these dashboard apps are what allow functions such as feeding us weather reports, enabling phone calls, alerting us to potential hazards and providing entertainment while on the road.

It’s the lure of these digital experiences that have the potential to heavily influence a buyer. But to do so, brands will have to ensure that this technology works seamlessly and adds value to the driving experience.

A consistent experience

When it comes to developing an end-to-end user experience, car manufactures are increasingly integrating dashboard applications that are safe, useful and, importantly, reflect the brand’s personality and its intended user experience. This is because cars are not just a practical purchase, they’re an emotional, brand-driven sale.

Sports cars should excite and make the driver feel like Lewis Hamilton. A 4×4 off-roader may make us feel rugged and adventurous. A 4-door saloon car reminds us of family and comfort. A luxury car may make us feel classy and, well, luxurious. The in-car experience is an extension of the brand and must be consistent with the brand if companies are to secure loyalty from their users.

A car that is marketed as a secure, dependable family vehicle should have a telematics system that includes entertainment apps for children, as well as child safety apps such as automatic safety locking that parents can activate from their smartphones. For rugged, outdoor adventure vehicles, telematics systems will need to provide top-notch navigation and extreme weather warnings in remote locations.

A seamless experience

Purchasing decisions are made based on digital technology far more than they ever have. But it’s not just about the technology advertised, but also how it performs and its practical functionality. Delivering consistency to users through in-car apps can be a technical challenge as it requires the multi-tier architecture between mobile device and car to operate without interruption.

For example, if a driver prefers using a certain app over the car’s own navigation system, manufacturers will have to ask how can this be integrated into and projected through a car’s dashboard app for smooth and user friendly navigation, versus drivers navigating through small phone screens attached to the windshield with a suction disc.

Apps must also work without fault across different car models and different smartphones, creating huge challenges for companies looking to ensure that all users have a seamless, consistent experience.

As part of this challenge, ensuring swift response times is of particular significance for auto manufacturers when looking at the communication between apps and dashboard infrastructure. With commands passing from a smartphone to a remote server through to the dashboard, every millisecond counts – particularly if navigating roads in real-time through the dashboard.

Software release cycles are a further hurdle facing manufacturers. While the auto industry typically operates on an annual release cycle of a new car model being released once a year. However, due to the rise in infotainment products, mobile release cycles and OS updates, auto manufacturers will need to match their software and apps release schedule to meet this new-to-automotive pace of shorter development and testing cycles.

Finally, systems will have to be exposed to more than ‘functional testing’ of its main features. Effective testing of apps will also need to mirror and account for the users’ real experiences, including use of multiple apps at once – auto manufacturers, for example, will need to know how a passenger texting may affect the driver’s use of the navigation apps at the same time.

A global experience

While the global market for cars presents lots of opportunity for revenue, it also brings its own set of challenges. With most operating globally, auto manufacturers need to ensure that their telematics systems and apps work perfectly for users anywhere: if an American company is selling cars in Japan, they need to be able to test the app experience of users in Japan accurately, including testing Japanese cell phone networks.

Cars will be moving at a fast pace, through changing environments, and with different network conditions. This mobility is inherent in a car’s nature, and manufacturers cannot test apps against only one location, with the assumption of a steady power source and a reliable internet connection; they will need to compare experiences across disparate geographical locations and marketplaces.

Experience guaranteed

It’s no secret that the car industry and auto manufacturers are under pressure to compete globally and meet user demands. And as cars get smarter, automotive manufacturers that do not use digital telematics to offer the branded experience that they promise users are missing a key market opportunity and risk falling short of tomorrow’s – and today’s – consumer expectations.

Automotive brands must therefore make sure that their in-vehicle experience offers users extra value, a better driving experience and works seamlessly.

To do so, they will need to use the right testing tools to ensure that apps are thoroughly prepared for different conditions, geographies, networks and user habits, so that drivers have a consistent and smooth experience on even the roads less travelled.

Christopher P. Willis, CMO, Perfecto

Photo Credit: ssguy/Shutterstock