Two weeks of car shopping has driven home two big points for me: User interface matters. Car companies aren't all that good at it.
In my tour of test drives, I've discovered that car companies obviously think the following:
- More buttons are better. Acura thinks that if 16 buttons on the entertainment system is good that 32 must really be special.
- Voice recognition is ok---sort of. My first conversation with Ford's Sync system was a letdown. Ford's MyTouch interface in notable, but Consumer Reports already dinged it.
- Navigation screens aren't exactly a walk in the user interface (UI) park.
At the end of this car UI adventure, I was pretty happy to see something very plain. Just give me a button or two and let me drive. Simply put, less is more.
Hence this brain fart about Apple's next growth market. Here's the general idea:
- Some savvy automaker does a deal with Apple to go for collaboration on the car's interior. This partnership would go beyond the standard "plug in your iPod" trick. Apple designers would do the UI and buttons for the car interior. Think industrial design meets Audi.
- The auto-Apple deal would be exclusive. Taking a page from the iPhone playbook, Apple would start this auto partnership with a 4-year exclusive. Since Volkswagen can't quite get traction in the U.S. that's a good place to start.
- Apple could use the exclusive auto deal to make it so it could pop the iPad or iPod into a dashboard. The App Store would have an auto section.
While much of the focus on Apple's next market revolves around the living room, the automobile could be much more compelling. Would this Apple-auto arrangement actually happen? Who knows? There would surely be a culture clash. What I do know is that automakers could use some design help and Apple would fetch a premium on profits if it got into the car-tech game.
- With Focus Electric, Ford goes for holistic charging, app, interface approach
- Toyota joins in-car app bandwagon
- CES: Toyota launches Entune, plans to take on Ford for in-car entertainment
- Ford’s AppLink to be compatible with Apple’s iPhone
- Ford rolls out SDK for mobile developers
- Ford: Smart device-car interoperability key
- Wi-Fi Sync installation boosts Ford’s assembly line efficiency
- Ford, Nuance aim to make Sync more conversational
- Ford: Solving the Internet’s ‘last inch’ problem at 70 mph