Why In-Car Technology is So Bad and Why It's About to Get a Lot Better

Craig Cole
by Craig Cole

From Bluetooth connectivity to third-party apps, voice control to navigation technology, modern infotainment systems are loaded with features.

Unfortunately not all of them are beneficial to the driver or easy to use. Going forward, in-car technology will have to get more responsive and intuitive to keep up with consumer demand.

Form Follows Function

“I think the next big thing is making it work,” said Tim Philippo, product strategy and cross car line manager at Jaguar Land Rover. He said what’s key going forward is “making a really good user experience,” one that’s cohesive and seamless, which is something that automakers have largely failed to deliver.

SEE ALSO: Many Consumers Don’t Understand Infotainment Systems

In the smartphone age where practically everyone is connected at all times, infotainment technology has really taken hold in our collective conscience. It’s also become a major purchase consideration for many drivers, particularly young ones.

Major Malfunction

However, it’s no secret that automakers have largely missed the mark by a country mile when it comes to the implementation of connectivity technology. My Ford Touch is top of mind. In fact this single feature torpedoed the blue-oval brand’s quality rankings for years, though they’re hardly the only automaker with such issues.

But why has in-car infotainment technology been so disappointing? “Development times in the automotive industry are so much longer than consumer electronics,” said Philippo. It has to be tested and then tested again to ensure it’s safe and built to last for a decade or more.

“An automobile has to be able to start in International Falls, Minnesota at minus 40 degrees,” Philippo added. It also has to withstand sweltering summer heat in places like Dallas, Texas. For reasons like these, “We have to provide hardware that is incredibly robust,” he said. Will a Samsung Galaxy phone survive rigors like these? Can an iPad withstand the vibration and constant pounding a bumpy road serves up?

But there’s another reason why infotainment technology has historically been so underwhelming. “In the past they had to make sure it was right and ready,” said Philippo. This is because once a vehicle exited the assembly line it was done; there was really no way to change or improve its equipment.

Fortunately with pervasive connectivity, over-the-air updates have become almost commonplace, giving drivers access to technology that’s more reliable, secure and feature laden. Because of this capability Philippo said, “You’re going to see us move a lot faster.”

Too Much is Never Enough

The sky may be the limit when it comes to what infotainment systems will be able to do but not everyone wants to have their head in the clouds. Philippo said, “We will say ‘no’ to bad technology.” Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

SEE ALSO: Top 10 Infotainment Systems

Obviously something like a Morse code texting app or the ability to edit spreadsheets while driving is inappropriate. “If it’s not providing a good user experience we will abandon it quickly,” said Philippo. Focusing on what really adds value “is where the future of technology lies.”

Room For Embedded Experiences

Android Auto and Apple’s CarPlay are leading the charge of next-generation infotainment technology, promising feature-rich experiences that are easy to use. But Philippo isn’t necessarily a big fan of these technologies. He said he thinks the actual experiences are not going to live up to customer expectations.

While Google and Apple seem poised to take over the dashboard Philippo said, “There’s still room for embedded navigation and embedded infotainment in vehicles.” The example he gave was going for a short drive. If a motorist is just zipping around the block they may not want to bother plugging their phone into the car’s infotainment system. If they want to listen to music or see traffic on a map, embedded solutions are right there to help.

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Craig Cole
Craig Cole

Born and raised in metro Detroit, Craig was steeped in mechanics from childhood. He feels as much at home with a wrench or welding gun in his hand as he does behind the wheel or in front of a camera. Putting his Bachelor's Degree in Journalism to good use, he's always pumping out videos, reviews, and features for AutoGuide.com. When the workday is over, he can be found out driving his fully restored 1936 Ford V8 sedan. Craig has covered the automotive industry full time for more than 10 years and is a member of the Automotive Press Association (APA) and Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA).

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2 of 5 comments
  • Noe Japan Noe Japan on Jun 22, 2015

    The tech "now" is great when you buying a car new or used within 2-3 years. This story going to be a whole bunch different when/if you buying a 2015 car in say 2025 ...

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