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SBD: Three Realities of next-generation in-car entertainment

SBD is an independent, technical consultancy specialising in the design and development of vehicle security, telematics and ITS systems.


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In-car entertainment has undergone a major transformation over the last five years, as vehicle manufacturers have rushed to adapt to major revolutions in media consumption outside of the car. Not long ago consumers were satisfied with analogue radio and a CD player. By 2018, however, SBD forecasts that 32 million vehicles shipped each year will be fitted with advanced infotainment systems that will offer drivers a much richer digital and connected entertainment experience. As the car becomes an entertainment hub, digital radio, Internet radio and advanced media streaming are all rapidly becoming a standard feature on many models.

Throughout this transformation, the automotive industry has been busy debating how best to enable next generation in-car entertainment services in the car. They face an expanding array of options, including smartphone integration solutions, embedded SIMs and multi-functional digital radio receivers. Many vehicle manufacturers are now coming to realize some important new realities about the future of in-car entertainment.

First reality: Hybrid Platforms
The first is the importance of hybrid platforms. Each type of connectivity has specific strengths and weaknesses. Smartphone integration enables drivers to access their favorite apps in an affordable way, but OEMs have struggled so far to enable a simple user experience. Embedded solutions provide a simpler user experience as drivers do not need to pair their smartphone to access services, but few are willing to pay yet another subscription fee to cover the communication costs incurred by in-built SIMs. Digital radio, on the other hand, offers content delivery at a fraction of the cost (or even free), but the industry has faced uncertainty in the past about the roll-out of services in some key markets. The days of agonizing over which platform to adopt is gradually coming to an end, however, as more OEMs begin to see the complimentary nature of each approach and begin to develop hybrid solutions.

Second Reality: Regulation On Driver Distraction
The second reality faced by OEMs is the role that regulation will inevitably play as governments grow increasingly concerned about driver distraction. In the USA we have already seen the government introduce tough new design guidelines that will force some OEMs to scale back some of the functionality of their existing systems. Although these guidelines are often positioned as ‘voluntary’, in reality OEMs are unlikely to ignore them for fear of risking stronger government action or potential legal action from drivers involved in distraction – related crashes.

Third Reality: Content-Centric User Interface
Based on the above, it is easy for the automotive industry itself to be distracted by debates about technologies and government restrictions on those technologies. However, this brings us to the third reality faced by OEMs: success relies on developing content-centric rather than technology-centric solutions. SBD has recently conducted a major consumer clinic of the latest in-car entertainment systems, many of which are promoted by OEMs as offering advanced features such as Facebook and Spotify. When presented with these systems, one of the most common reactions amongst drivers was confusion. All of the systems tested offered a wide range of entertainment platforms, such as smartphone apps, Internet radio, DAB, CDs, and analogue radio.

However, whilst rushing to offer all of these platforms, OEMs have not yet found a way to seamlessly and intuitively integrate the content from each of these into single user experience. Instead, drivers are forced to jump through hoops in order to navigate between all of the platforms and find their favorite content. Doing this whilst stationary proved difficult for many of the consumers who joined our clinic – you can imagine how much more complicated it would be to navigate through menus whilst driving.

So how will this change? Only through collaboration between content providers and OEMs. Developing next-generation in-car systems that offer intuitive and content-centric end-user experiences will require OEMs to begin working more closely with broadcasters and app developers. Some of this collaboration is already occurring between individual players – cross-industry standards may also be required in the future too.

But one thing is clear: whilst the diversity and complexity of entertainment-related technologies in the car will continue to grow, the end-user experience must become simpler.

Andrew Hart
Head of Advanced Research
SBD

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