How to fix the infotainment problem

November 16, 2017
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Sam Diamond

Recent surveys suggest that our cars are more connected than ever, with many drivers taking advantage of their vehicle’s inbuilt infotainment system. But there’s still a long way to go before users are happy with their in-car media experience.

It’s 2017, so it should come as no surprise that technology is close to having fully infiltrated the driving experience. A recent survey we conducted at German Autolabs found that only 3% of drivers get by without GPS navigation, either through their smartphone or through a dedicated system.

Car manufacturers, to their credit, have responded to the demand for a connected driving experience. Many cars come with pre-installed ‘infotainment’ systems, so drivers can stay connected on the road. These systems also take care of navigation and in-car entertainment. According to our survey, 37% of drivers had some form of infotainment system installed in their car.

Infotainment systems are widespread...but users are not happy with them

Although these systems are responding to a real desire for a truly connected vehicle, there’s huge room for improvement. A recent report on infotainment systems by Consumer Reports suggests that only 44% of drivers who have an infotainment system in their car are satisfied with it. This is backed up by what we found in our survey: infotainment systems received an incredibly low Net Promoter Score of -35, indicating extreme dissatisfaction. Additionally, 42% told us that they never use their infotainment system. So why do people dislike their systems so much?

Poorly designed, slower than smartphones - and distracting

Much of the discussion about infotainment systems focuses on their poor design - in an article on Lifehacker, their interfaces are described as having the look of old Winamp skins, with menu screens cluttered and ugly. And this is only the case for the systems that have evolved to the level of the touchscreen - many systems still rely on dials, or, in the worst cases, on what is essentially a mouse.

That’s before you even get to using the systems, which are often laggy and slower than a smartphone. The user experience also leaves a lot to be desired - anyone who has used the average infotainment system will tell you of endless layers of menus and submenus and unintuitive, nonsensical use-flows.

This all leads to one thing: distraction. It’s no wonder that drivers hate their infotainment systems - they’re clearly frustrating and no fun to use. But with drivers constantly fighting with their systems to do simple things like change the music or answer a phone call, there’s also an element of danger. Bad design isn’t just annoying, it keeps drivers’ eyes off the road and causes accidents.

So what’s the solution? It could be voice - but there’s a lot of work to do

Drivers taking their hands off the wheel and their eyes off the road to engage with a display is clearly a recipe for distraction, so even well-designed menu architecture is not a satisfactory option. One way around this is to employ voice controls, allowing drivers to bypass complicated menu structures and issue commands directly.

But such a solution is not as simple as it sounds. While voice has the potential to be a perfect solution, drivers currently report that current systems have trouble understanding spoken commands, and this can be even more distracting than using a keyboard. A recent report by AAA Foundation found that while voice commands were less demanding on motorists than using centrally located systems, interaction times were in fact increased.

This suggests that there is a lot of work to be done in building voice-recognition systems that respond to drivers with minimal distraction.

What we’re doing to fix this

So while there is clearly an appetite from both drivers and manufacturers for cars which are truly connected, there is still a long way to go in developing such systems.

At German Autolabs, we believe that voice provides the best way to help drivers interact with information and entertainment without them having to take their hands of the steering wheel or their eyes off the road.

We’re also aware that there’s a lot of work to be done in getting voice recognition to the point where interaction times are minimal and devices do the heavy-lifting when it comes to controlling music, navigation and other in-car information, so that drivers can concentrate on what they should be concentrating on: the road.

But we’re confident that we can get to this point and build software and devices that fulfil this application far more effectively than current infotainment systems.

To summarize:

  • Infotainment systems in cars are increasingly widespread
  • This demonstrates that car manufacturers are recognizing the demand for in-car connection
  • But these systems are frequently poorly designed, and users hate them
  • They often have difficult-to-use user interfaces, which are unintuitive and distract users from driving
  • Voice recognition is a far better solution, but this technology needs to be developed - something we’re doing at German Autolabs, starting by building Chris.
Sam Diamond
Sam Diamond
Story and Social

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