The automotive industry now faces significant challenges to address the seismic shift of communications technology in an increasingly connected mobile universe. Once, infotainment suppliers’ key strengths lay in audio and system integration technologies. Now, three new major technology themes are equally as relevant and should be of greater concern to the OEMs; Big Data, Smart Connectivity and User Experience will be increasingly critical as consumer expectations and commercial opportunities expand.
The infotainment landscape is changing and it is happening quickly. Just as the IT industry witnessed mainframe computers lose out to personal computers, today it’s the Smartphone that dictates integration strategies for the vehicle manufacturers. Sales of Smartphones easily surpass desktop and laptop computer sales combined, and with research highlighting that more than 92 million vehicles with Internet connectivity will be on the road by 2016, there is massive potential for success or failure. Throw in third-party applications and a mobile network that has become more reliable and robust, and it’s clear OEMs must consider a wider approach to delivering in-car infotainment.
A craving for data consumption
Analysts from IDC predict that the Internet of Things (IoT) market will rise dramatically in the coming years; up from 9.1 billion installed units at the end of 2013 to closer to 28.1 billion by 2020. The generation and consumption of data is beyond what many predicted and continues to grow at a phenomenal rate. Consider that Facebook now has more than one billion users, and six billion hours of YouTube videos are watched every month. Twitter is now up to 6,000 tweets per second, and although it’s hard to believe, analysts claim that 90% of the world’s data was created in the last couple of years. Rationalising that level of data is going to be harder if OEMs don’t get a grasp of this.
Despite its potential to enhance the human experience, it’s already difficult to collect and analyse the insights gathered through Big Data. In the car, infotainment will need to be smart to ensure communications are personalised and more efficient. Future Infotainment systems will have to derive values from Big Data by analysing data generated in real time and compiling this with other sources, such as traffic, weather or commercial offerings. Infotainment suppliers will need to rationalise and personalise the data to the user, and tomorrow’s successful innovators will provide users with access to this prolific content in the car as more of a unified ‘lifestyle experience’. For Harman, that means our audio and infotainment technologies, whether in the home, work or car, will integrate into users’ daily lives in ways we can’t yet fully imagine.
Smart Connectivity is built upon allowing for intelligent experiences in all walks of life with devices aware of their surroundings. Sensors will form a connected network of lifestyle solutions to quickly and quietly help us with our daily life. In-car technology will incorporate smart connectivity that is safe, minimises distraction and adds to that lifestyle experience as well as providing passengers with the latest from the connected world.
The last of these three areas is User Experience (UX). UX means creating design that focuses on the ‘holistic’ interaction a user has with a product or a service. UX must go beyond a standard user interface (UI), also covering the user’s expectations and even emotions, as well as other intangible factors. OEMs must not consider that UX is simply “ease of use”; because of the human interaction, there is also a deep psychological element. OEMs will need to gain a better understanding of the human factors as well as the technological elements. Research will play its part at this stage and UX must be considered a priority. At Harman, we are already looking at a variety of methods such as eye tracking, gesture recognition and haptic feedback as elements of a future UX that is both natural and safe.
Beyond the obvious
Innovation as we have seen will have to reach beyond the traditional silos of hardware and software development. R&D strategies will need to be considered to have many more domains. This could include traditional software or materials but expect to see them joined by human psychology and others. UX, Smart Connectivity and Big Data will shape and drive this transformation. As the boundaries expand beyond and into the car, technology firms will have to manage the building blocks they are creating. A matrix of differentiators or enablers will emerge. Those with more opportunities for reuse or those unrestricted by platforms will become more valuable and of more use. Managers of these technologies will need to look further forward to assess the true value and determine their contribution, not only to today but also to tomorrow.
With a rigorous process and effective management, technology firms will be able to ‘future proof’ their R&D programmes, ensuring they remain relevant to the changes happening within the automotive electronics sector. These will be the suppliers with the reputation that the OEMs require and will be the survivors in an ever changing environment.