Following the taillights on the smartphone wars, Google and Apple are gearing up for another battle for your mindshare and loyalty. It’s not wearable technology, nor your living room, well, yet. No, this time the tech giants are accelerating their pace toward owning your dashboard. On the Google side, the Open Automotive Alliance is set to bring Android to your vehicle. While on the Apple side, iOS 7 now supports a feature called CarPlay, a simplified version of iOS which takes over your car’s in-dash screen to provide you with an easy and safe way to use your phone.
While each side has their own launch partners, there does appear to be some overlap between the two, namely Honda. This begs the question, will your car’s dashboard be platform agnostic, perhaps running a Blackberry supplied QNX-based OS which can then be supplanted by your favorite operating system? Or, are manufacturers going to lock their drivers into one system or the other. And if so, will having iOS in your car or Android on your dash affect your ultimate choice of vehicle?
Regardless of which interface wins out, the automobile is a whole new arena to play in and one that up until now has been met with mostly sub-par experiences. The winner in the space will have to think about:
- Interface Simplicity: What changes can they make to their interface to make it easy and safe to use on the road. Car interfaces have to minimize distraction and have large tap targets or input methods (including voice) to be a safe option for users/drivers.
- Avoiding Feature Bloat: It may be tempting to put a whole operating system on the car’s dashboard, but where’s the line? Too many features and functionality and the user/driver can be come overwhelmed or frustrated. Too little and they’ll wonder why you’re taking over their dashboard in the first place.
- Apps, Apps and More Apps: Designing and developing apps for an entire new form factor takes time, thought and money. Beyond the included apps, will these systems be open to other developers to create their own in-car apps? If so, will there need to be strict guidelines about what’s acceptable and what’s not?
- Testing On-device (In-car): It won’t be enough to simply test in the lab when it comes to moving vehicles, connections to a variety of handsets, cellular connections, car model and year mean that the testing matrix will grow in complexity. And if you are a third-party developer granted the opportunity to write for the car, you’ll want to make sure that your app is safe, usable and bug free.
This will be an interesting space to watch in the next several months as both systems come online. Who will win, will really come down to execution, a solid user/driver experience and simplicity.