4 Connected Car UX Mistakes to Avoid

June 15, 2015  |  By John Jasper  |       



The global in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) market is expected to reach $14 billion by 2016, with a compound annual growth rate of 12 percent, according to market research company MarketsandMarkets. But as is the case in any burgeoning industry, with this growth comes plenty of pitfalls. According to the 2014 Consumer Reports auto reliability survey, infotainment systems are the leading source of trouble among new cars.

Why? While automakers may know how to design cars that run and drive well, that doesn’t necessarily make them experts in building the sophisticated, yet user-friendly, IVI systems today’s consumers demand. Innovative companies play a key role in helping auto manufacturers build “connected cars” by seamlessly integrating mobile devices into the driving experience.

When it comes to user experience, here are the biggest connected car UX mistakes OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers should avoid:

1. Too Many Features

Fueled by consumer demand, IVI has become something of an arms race among automakers. In the most basic sense, these systems display smartphone apps and music on a car’s head unit screen, enabling the driver to control them using voice commands. Beyond that, automakers are giving drivers access to countless other features and apps on their dashboards.

But popular research shows most drivers aren’t interested in more features; they just want IVI systems that are reliable and easy to use. Rather than enriching the user experience, these wow-factor features confuse drivers and detract from it. Ford experienced this firsthand with its hotly anticipated SYNC/MyFord Touch infotainment system. According to a CNET report, early feedback showed consumers thought the system was “a little too sophisticated with maybe a little too many options."

OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers are better served by focusing on the core IVI functions, like voice control or audio, and then moving on to flashier features. Even then, exercise caution. Rather than adding features many drivers will never use, integrate only the apps that are most likely to appeal to the brand’s customer demographic. With IVI, less is more.

2. A Complicated User Interface

The more complicated the system, the steeper the learning curve. While automakers may be tempted to forge new ground in the design of their IVI interfaces, the worst thing they can do for their customers is confuse them. Too many buttons or menu choices erode the user experience. At best, this causes driver frustration. At worst, it causes distraction; a driver who takes his eyes off the road to grapple with a touch screen poses a serious danger to himself and everyone around him.

The solution is to simplify. The IVI interface should meet the user’s needs ‒‒ no more, no less. Make it intuitive and apply standard UI design patterns. Use simple menus and recognizable icons. Place controls where consumers expect to find them. And make sure display fonts and buttons are easy to read and access.

To cut down on driver distraction, integrate technology that deactivates certain IVI functions, such as GPS navigation entry, while a vehicle is moving.

3. Poor Quality Control

Like any sophisticated technology, IVI systems are prone to bugs and errors, especially if they are brand new or largely untested. Quality control is important here because drivers rely on IVI systems for most of their needs ‒‒ navigation, music, phone calls, and much more. Consumers expect crucial elements like touchscreen sensitivity or GPS navigation to work seamlessly, and glitches can be infuriating.

Not only do these QC issues ruin the user experience, they can take a toll on OEM standings in quality and reliability studies. 

4. Substandard Voice Recognition Technology

The heart of any IVI system is voice recognition. Unfortunately, this is also one of the most common pain points. While speaking to the car’s dashboard has long been touted as a remedy for driver distraction, that’s only the case if the voice control technology works properly.

According to J.D. Power’s vehicle quality reports, consumers frequently complain about the substandard voice recognition in their cars. Admittedly, this technology can be challenging because the interior of a car is noisy and unpredictable ‒‒ but nonetheless, consumers expect it to work as promised.

OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers should focus on making this core functionality as good as possible so that drivers learn they can rely upon it. Without it, an IVI system becomes yet one more dangerous distraction from the task at hand.


Topics: Automotive UI/UX

John Jasper

John is the President and COO of Abalta Technologies. Abalta Technologies, Inc. is an emerging leader in the connected car landscape. Abalta has developed an innovative platform to enable car companies, automotive electronic firms and tier 1 suppliers to bridge the gap between the smartphone and the car’s infotainment system.

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