Modern infotainment: Pros and Cons

Clarence Seow
17 May 2019
 

All this of course translates into potential lost sales for manufactures that choose not to stay ahead in terms of high-tech dashboards.

Car infotainment systems have been growing in complexity. Oneshift looks at the causes for this transformation, as well as their benefits and potential issues.

If you are lucky enough to be in them market for a new car, or scroll through our reviews often enough, you must have noticed that plenty of new cars are now offering ever slicker infotainment systems in an effort to woo customers. But are these new systems necessarily a boon for us buyers? Read on to find out!

Why these systems?

As with all things tech related, you have the people of my generation to blame. The deeply connected millennial generation is fuelling greater interest in tech-savvy features: 41 percent of millennial car buyers say that they are interested in the latest technology innovations in their next vehicle, compared to just 38 percent overall. Furthermore, 70 percent of millennials who plan to purchase a vehicle within the next three years say that they are willing to pay extra for an infotainment system in their next vehicle, as compared to 52 percent overall and just 30 percent of baby boomers.

All this of course translates into potential lost sales for manufactures that choose not to stay ahead in terms of high-tech dashboards.

Even Mainstream manufacturers are not exempt from rolling out these new systems

Convenience and Connectivity

But their widespread adoption goes beyond changing consumer preference. With the shift towards a ‘virtual cockpit’ – all-digital dashboard, manufacturers now have the opportunity to clean up dashboards and free them from clutter. The use of either touchscreens or a trackpad-display combination facilitates clearer and more diverse information display than with warning lights alone – necessary as cars are now fitted with more warning sensors and make use of them to alert the drive of various issues from mechanical failures to road dangers.

Tesla's interiors fuel the fashion for clutter-free cabin design

With so much talk abound about our Digital Transformation, and how the Internet of Things is going to alter the way we live, our cars have likewise not been exempt from this tide. Manufacturers have begun to develop and roll out integrated mobility services such as solutions for car sharing, searching for parking spaces, as well as predictive navigation, all of this of course, will not only require greater connectivity from our cars but will also demand user-interface systems too complicated for a simple array of buttons. Think of our current systems as laying the groundwork for a future of intelligent, inter-connected cars.

Coming back to the present day, research from IHS Markit points out that these new systems have allowed manufacturers to cut down on the number of component suppliers when building their cabins as they look to work with fewer companies capable of doing more. Supplier count could go down to as little as two to three as opposed to the six to 10 today. This means less time spent on engineering for the integration across multiple systems and more on improving cabin build quality. Building integrated control units will ensure that important warning bells do not get drowned out by loud music being played, as is currently the case on various models.

Driven to Distraction?

One of the main issues however, with the growing abilities of modern infotainment systems is the fact that they now serve as a distraction for drivers from what is happening on the road. I am sure many of you are familiar with the fact that it is illegal to operate a phone if it is held onto with one hand while the vehicle is in motion, but does the fact that these systems are built into the dashboard and read out incoming messages on your behalf mean that they are safe to use?

A study conducted by the American Automobile Association certainly does not think so, pointing out that while there is a common perception that such systems are safer because the driver can use them while holding the wheel and looking at the road, their studies have showed that the mental workload from performing complicated tasks alone is sufficient to slow reaction times, whatever the driver is doing with his or her hands.

If that is not enough to convince you, consider this: their studies of driver performance when distracted by various common tasks ranked the degree of mental distraction on a scale, and while listening to the radio was ranked low, at level one, and talking on a phone (whether handheld or hands-free) was a level two, listening and responding to in-vehicle, voice-activated email feature increased mental workload and distraction levels of the drivers to a three rating: one of ‘extensive risk’.

Intuitiveness

Another cost of hiding increasing functionality behind a simplified design is the need for more menus and sub-menus to access options available on these systems. Making using them ultimately unintuitive to use. J.D. Power’s annual initial quality reports that its ‘audio / communication / entertainment / navigation’ segment has been the poorest performing across the industry with 2018’s study racking up an average of 22 problems per 100 vehicles reported in the first 90 days of ownership, while voice recognition technology continues to lead the way as the number one complaint for a sixth consecutive year. If you are not the tech-savvy sort, consider spending some time building familiarity with your car’s system before hitting the road, or shop for something that offers hard buttons for AC and radio controls.

Audi's double screen system continues to score highly in J.D. Power's quality surveys. Built-in hepatic feedback reduces time eyes spend away from the road.

Obsolescence 

Owners of cars equipped with earlier GPS systems will know what I mean here. With the automotive sector still slow to embrace Over-the-Air programming like how smartphones get their updates, in-car infotainment systems run a real risk of having their maps / features / apps becoming obsolete or losing out on the updates necessary to keep them operable.

In the near future this could mean little more than additional trips to the dealer for your software updates, but what I am more concerned with is if these systems are going to retain their ‘wow’ factor after years of use. Aesthetic obsolescence, if you will. Manufactures are now hopping on the trend towards larger display screens and charging you extra for them but just like how smartphone designs and their fonts and display quality become outdated within just one generation, I doubt these new displays will be able to retain their appeal in the same way that simple polished aluminium pieces and dial faces will retain a timeless beauty.

Does your car have one of these systems? How intuitive have you found it to use? Share with us in the comments below!


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