The future of automotive infotainment: Connect the dots for an immersive experience

February 7, 2024

There was no shortage of references to artificial intelligence (AI) at last month’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), especially in the automotive space. The demand for an unparalleled in-car experience is igniting a revolution, reshaping the way humans perceive and interact with vehicles. One presentation, Transforming the Driving Experience, highlighted challenges and opportunities for manufacturers and technology companies to tackle. This panel touched on everything from fixing the low-hanging fruit that hasn’t been touched in decades to evaluating the value of connected services. All panelists agreed that with constantly evolving operating systems and platforms, the automotive industry is at a crossroads; a pivotal moment to define the next generation of automotive experiences.

Transforming multimedia entertainment into automotive delight

How do we infuse vehicles with compelling content? The scalability, equity, and perceived value by consumers are critical considerations; for example, when it comes to connected services, consumers now question, “Why are you asking me to pay for this service”. Overcoming obstacles and achieving next-gen milestones requires a cohesive plan and the creation of an effective ecosystem that fosters a robust in-car experience, pushing the envelope to envision a future where individuals can ‘live’ inside their vehicles just like they do in their homes. An example given was sitting in your car in the driveway to play an immersive video game: perhaps an answer to idle time?

Idle cars, active possibilities

Speaking of idle time, as we look toward the future, the parked EV car becomes a canvas for tech trends to paint various use cases. From turning the vehicle into a mobile office to a personalized entertainment hub, the possibilities are vast. The question becomes not just what the car can do on the road but what it can offer when drivers and passengers must wait for the battery to charge.

Visualizing the future: 3D graphics and beyond

The introduction of human-machine interface (HMI) products supporting 3D graphics is set to enhance the in-car experience, elevating instrument clusters and heads-up displays (HUDs). These new concepts, especially a 3D HUD, aim to reduce driver distraction by eliminating the need to take their eyes off the road to look at the instrument cluster or center display.

Stakeholder considerations: Balancing long-term goals and quick wins

For stakeholders, the journey toward transforming the auto experience involves a delicate balance. Long-term goals (i.e., incorporating AI to adapt to driver routines and to deliver features that align with driver and passenger expectations) should be pursued, but the strategy should also incorporate small wins that address common use cases. Surprisingly, progress has been slower than anticipated, with plenty of untapped potential to make lives easier through quick wins that meet user needs. Take dashboard warnings, for example: a common frustration is having to flip through an instruction manual that is hundreds of pages long to identify the meaning of a warning sign without knowing how serious that warning is in the first place. Leveraging the wealth of contextual information available in each vehicle can unlock these ‘quick wins’ and enhance the overall user experience.

From features to benefits: A paradigm shift

In the pursuit of innovation, the mantra should be to ‘be a benefit button’ rather than a ‘feature freak.’ This shift in perspective ensures that developments and enhancements prioritize real-world benefits for users, aligning with their needs and expectations. Understanding these needs is at the core of what we do in UX research. Do drivers really want to ask their car to deliver a scent through the vents? Is it something that would factor into their vehicle purchase? When innovation is moving at a breakneck pace, you want to know you’re spending precious time and money developing features and benefits that are meaningful to users.

The human touch in a tech-driven era

There are challenges posed by technology outpacing user adaptation; manufacturers and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are working to transform the vehicle into an interesting companion, but may not be taking the time needed to empathize with the human experience. The speed of innovation should align with our ability to understand and cater to the diverse needs and use cases of drivers and passengers.

The automotive industry stands at the precipice of a transformative era, where the convergence of technology and user experience will define the vehicles of tomorrow. By addressing quick wins, embracing innovation, and staying attuned to user needs by including users in the development process, stakeholders can lead the charge towards an automotive future that goes beyond transportation, creating an immersive and delightful experience for every journey.