What do vehicles have to learn from cell phones? A comment on the future of cars

Personalization, effectiveness, speed, and convenience are just some words that are taking over most industries that seek to please increasingly demanding customers. The automotive sector is not an exception. Brands such as Ford, Nissan, and Volkswagen are looking to provide the same level of personalization that cell phones offer. This begs the question: Are cars going to become computers on wheels? Will our smartphones completely integrate into vehicles? 

Cell phones have become much more than a medium to communicate with others. Today they are our bank, our email, and our entertainment. The automotive industry is experiencing a similar path. Cars have become much more than the means to go from point A to point B. Vehicles now count on advanced infotainment systems that connect with the driver’s devices, enabling them to access their favorite list on Spotify, check their Google calendar, and even make in-car payments in the parking lot. 

Today, some of the most popular in-car experiences occur when passengers connect their phones to their vehicles. For instance, Apple’s CarPlay allows the user to “take your iPhone on the road” and safely use your favorite applications while you drive. CarPlay uses the vehicle’s embedded screen to provide drivers with the typical services they use on their phones. There are more than 600 vehicle models that support CarPlay, including brands such as Ford, Audi, Abarth, Acura, and BMW.

Does this mean providing the next level of in-car personalized services and experiences will be exclusive to technology companies? Will automotive companies give up the experience? Thomas Ingenlath, CEO of Polestar, says otherwise. The Swedish automotive brand works with Android to enhance its services on the Android Automotive OS infotainment system. 

Ingenlath states that to keep their promise to consumers of providing improved services on the road, they must establish partnerships: “we can only do it if we have a great partner with a great search engine behind it.” For Ingenlath, the fact that a company like Google is part of the in-car digital services does not jeopardize Polestar’s brand experience. As he says, “so far, my experience with Google is that they absolutely support that we have a brand-owned experience, even though we use their system in our car.”

However, in some cases, the in-vehicle entertainment experience has not been as flattering. According to a study by J.D Power, automakers are facing a number of challenges as a result of the pandemic, where infotainment systems are one of the most problematic fields. Android Auto and Apple Car play connectivity, voice recognition, Bluetooth systems, and display screens are some of the areas where the automotive industry is facing obstacles. 

Ford is one of the brands betting on implementing new technologies in their cars, with both successful and unsuccessful results. In the race to build the car of the future, Ford created a 100% electric version of its best-selling F-150: the F-150 Lighting. The new model is part of Ford Model E, a division responsible for developing EVs and software. Although it counts with the features and services that made the F-150 a best seller, such as hauling capability, safety equipment, and responsiveness, its new infotainment system did not live up to consumer expectations. 

Ford, one of the automotive giants, Volvo, General Motors, and the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance, partnered with Google to support their infotainment systems. However, Ford will release its new Android system next year. F-150 lighting trucks today count with the latest version of Sync, Sync 4A, which runs on a 15.5- inch portrait screen. 

However, the Sync 4A system doesn’t offer a seamless user experience. The digital interface is unclear, and some touchscreen buttons take too long to respond. Nilay Patel, editor and blogger sums it up: “There are oceans of pixels here, but you can’t have the radio and the map open at the same time.” 

“Given the many challenges automakers and their dealers had to face in the past year, it’s somewhat surprising that initial quality didn’t fall even more dramatically,” says David Amodeo, director of global automotive at J.D. Power. Although automotive companies can further improve and refine infotainment systems, these brands have been able to navigate an ecosystem where challenges related to supply chain management and software development, among others, have been present. 

 Another brand facing challenges with the in-car software is Volkswagen. ID 3 is the name of its latest electric model, the most important after the Volkswagen Golf. The automotive brand has not been successful in implementing ID 3’s operating system (OS), which has led to discussions with Mercedes-Benz to join forces to build software for electric models of both brands.

The differentiation, the competitiveness, and the customer experience will all depend 90 percent on software, says Herbert Diess, ex CEO of Volkswagen. In other words, the critical factor for the future of the automotive industry will be the digital experience. The vehicle’s software will be far more essential than the hardware. But how do we ensure it enhances the experience rather than making it frustrating?

At Globant, we aim to be a strategic partner to help automotive companies reinvent and be part of the new mobility ecosystem. The creation of Globant’s Mobility & Automotive Studio allows us to speak our clients’ automotive language, capturing our best capabilities from different studios to help them build the software that will support the in-car experiences of the future.

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The Automotive Studio is building the bridge to where the automotive industry is going. We create cutting-edge solutions that enhance customer experiences, leverging AI for efficiency and boosting new business models to build the future of mobility.