While the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) used to be dominated by standalone devices from smartphones to smart fridges, automotive technology once again played a core role in the 2023 event, held in Las Vegas in early January.
One element uniting much of the automotive tech on show was software designed to take assisting drivers’ everyday lives to the next level. Increasingly, software and services play a crucial role in almost every aspect of the driving experience, from making parking and charging an EV simpler to offering next-generation head-up displays (HUDs) and navigation that enables cars to direct drivers far more precisely to end destinations, as part of becoming the virtual driver assistant of the future.
Following directions, finding suitable parking spots and locating available charge points are some of the most stressful in-car experiences. Intelligent software and accurate data enable automakers to address these problems and make their vehicles more enjoyable to use. However, to capitalise on this, manufacturers need to make in-car systems as easy to use while driving as possible, without inadvertently hiding useful core features - such as in-car payment systems or Points of Interest (POI) data - behind layers of menus and selections.
Today, we are starting to see a shift in drivers selecting their vehicles increasingly based on in-vehicle technology and the user-friendliness of infotainment systems over traditional selling points such as top speed or engine size.
Future vehicles expected to be electric around the world
Judging by the prevalence of EVs at the 2023 CES event, it is clear that drivers and automakers expect a large proportion of new vehicles to be electric. Even Dodge, which produces the USA’s third best-selling pick-up line, presented its first electric version in Las Vegas.
While many motorists have concerns over the real-world range of EVs, it is the software and data available to support stress-free parking and charging that really makes a difference to drivers’ views of EVs - and, no doubt, whether they would buy a vehicle from the same brand next time around. This is evidently one of the key reasons Tesla has been so successful in selling vehicles to those who may never have considered an EV before.
Tesla’s models have easy-to-use media systems that clearly show compatible Tesla-operated ‘Superchargers’ and whether the car can reach them with the current battery level - taking the hassle out of finding charging. Drivers can plug in at these with the cost charged straight to their account, too, with no need to track down a compatible RFID card or credit card.
This doesn’t mean that automakers need their own charging networks, but it is crucial that they simplify the process of finding, activating and paying for compatible chargers. Investing billions in making an EV that drives well and feels premium will be obsolete if drivers are unable to complete journeys successfully and charge with ease, leading to a mass exodus of customers to one of the many alternative EV manufacturers that provide charging solutions successfully.
Fragmented public charging infrastructure is a factor that currently puts off many drivers from getting an EV. Parkopedia’s Head of EV, Adam Woolway joined the ‘Electrifying the Future’ panel discussion at CES, and addressed these EV charging issues directly, presenting Parkopedia’s Park and Charge product as a solution providing a seamless and complete EV charging experience for drivers - making topping up one less thing to worry about during a journey.
In-car operating system competition grows
Google Automotive Services (GAS) revealed a range of developments at the 2023 CES event, including a new version of Android Auto. This introduces a split-screen format that enables drivers to retain on-screen navigation while scrolling through alternative menus and carrying out tasks such as skipping music tracks or viewing messages.
With so many apps already crammed into new vehicles, many drivers will want to avoid adding yet another one to their vehicle and phone screens. Instead, the future will undoubtedly involve vehicles offering a simplified layout of easy-to-navigate menus for core functions, with many useful features built into these - such as traffic, weather, parking and charging data, and simple in-car payments - to make everyday driving more enjoyable.
While additions like music integration and social media feeds might sound appealing, it makes sense for everyday driving functions to be made more visible than they currently are. Forcing drivers to manually find and activate individual features available, to achieve the full experience that generally comes with a connected vehicle as standard, doesn’t provide the best experience.
This could involve the vehicle displaying parking availability when the car nears its destination or prompting the driver to use an in-car payment platform at applicable locations, preventing the need for them to get out of the car and hunt around for a ticket/payment machine and then the correct change. With so many devices now offering ‘concierge’ services to make their offerings more helpful to users, anything automakers can do to make their cars more user-friendly is likely to significantly boost customer loyalty and retention.
Current in-vehicle tech may look impressive, but ultimately there are many elements still to improve as part of the overall seamless driving experience - the concept of launching an app is contradictory to a seamless and integrated driving experience where vehicle-centric services should run in the background. Furthermore, reliance on numerous apps from countless providers increases the risk of technical issues and negative app experiences being considered a failing of the vehicle and the OEM rather than the third-party app itself. Integrating apps from disparate providers also limits consistency and can lead to a worse user experience with drivers jumping between apps designed by different companies - with nothing bespoke for regional variances or the automaker themselves and their individual drivers.
This makes it increasingly important for manufacturers to get their infotainment systems right, ensuring that the vehicle’s core functions are easy to access - both when driving and stationary. Drivers may forgive a vehicle that has slightly clunky integration for secondary features, such as social media apps, but poor execution of crucial driving services like traffic, parking information and in-car payment platforms, which are fundamentally linked to the process of driving, could also push drivers away.
Head-up displays and augmented reality tech innovations prioritise usability over touchscreens
Just as the proliferation of automotive apps makes life more difficult for drivers - by forcing them to constantly jump between different apps while driving - in-car touchscreens can be equally problematic. They may appeal to drivers while stationary in a showroom, but can be very hard to use while driving.
As a result, it’s more important than ever to provide drivers with a good user experience, which reflects how they use their vehicles every day. While many manufacturers have moved to creating tablet-style media systems in their vehicles, this ignores the fact that using a tablet while driving is illegal in most countries, due to the significant level of distraction caused by touchscreen interfaces.
BMW plans to address this, however, by using the entire windscreen as a head-up display, as seen in its ‘i Vision Dee’ concept, while Harman introduced its ‘Ready Vision’ augmented reality (AR) head-up display at CES. These offer scope for clever integration of AR features, whether that’s displaying turn-by-turn directions clearly on the windscreen, or overlaying data such as the location of charging points, to identify nearby features that may otherwise be tricky for the driver to spot while driving.
Good usability and helpful in-car services that take the stress out of hassles like parking, charging an electric car and even paying for tolls - leaving the driver to focus on driving, and ‘nudging’ them at the right time and only when an action is needed - should promote safety while improving usage numbers and customer loyalty. This means that increasingly it’s not the size of the screen that matters, but the usability of an infotainment system and the integrated services that will make the difference between drivers choosing a vehicle from the same brand again.
Conclusion: Successful integration of the right technology and software improves useability and could provide new revenue streams with greater customer loyalty
Combine the availability of larger screens, more sophisticated in-vehicle operating systems and new software and upcoming vehicles provide drivers with more features than ever before. More importantly, though, they also offer OEMs and service providers far more potential revenue streams, with automakers able to sell updates and subscription services, which are likely to account for a larger and larger proportion of automakers’ revenue going forward. However, this will only work if drivers are able to see the value in the services provided and they are delivered in the right way.
Well-thought-out software and service integration, therefore, is crucial and OEMs need to provide excellent user interfaces to ensure mass market adoption. Drivers clearly have an appetite for clever technology and a willingness to subscribe to an increasing number of services. However, while early adopters, in particular EV drivers, may accept poor user experiences, most motorists won’t be so forgiving. Consequently, automakers that make useful features such as in-car payments and POI data easy to find and use, stand to gain far greater subscription rates than those that fail to promote services successfully.
Parkopedia delivers market-leading parking and EV charging data and provides an innovative in-car Payment Platform to numerous global OEMs that enables drivers to seamlessly pay for vehicle-centric services.
As Parkopedia's Chief Product Officer, Duncan's main responsibilities include driving the growth of our product portfolio, ensuring customers' ongoing success from our products and the quality and efficiency of our product operations. Duncan has an extensive product development background, including multiple executive roles within e-commerce and logistics technology companies prior to Parkopedia.