The right way to make a dashboard for self-driving cars.

Another CES passed by and we saw a bunch of new smart cars, with self-driving capabilities. What all of them had in common, was how they were trying to be the center of your digital experience.

Image courtesy of Byton

Byton for example wants to track many aspects of your health and show it on the large screen on the dashboard for you to see. They are also trying to be a hub for your music and entertainment. Some of the car manufacturers are also insisting on developing their own personal assistants in the car.

Mercedes introduced a new personal assistant at CES 2018 in one of their new cars

But there’s a large problem with that. Building a new platform is difficult. Specially for a car manufacturer. Apple, Google, And Microsoft (and more recently Amazon) have managed to create their own platforms with varying levels of openness and compatibility with each other. Apple insists on iPhone owners using their AppStore for all of their app needs. Google does the same thing on Android with Play Store. Building a personal assistant might be getting easier and easier with advances in machine learning and human language processing, but one main problem remains.

All of this is resulting in a fragmentation in the industry, and that makes it very difficult for developers to develop and maintain their applications for those platforms.

Netflix is not going to develop an app for Byton, then another one for Mercedes, then another one for Tesla, and then another one for any other car manufacturer that thinks it’s a clever idea to build their own platform. Even if they do a partnership and decide to make an app for a couple of these car manfucaturers, do you think they would put the time in mainataining these apps and giving them regular updates? Car manufacturers already suffer from not getting regular updates, and the consumers are used to monthly app updates on their smartphones. If the car industry doesn’t realize soon that they need a unified approach to this instead of fragmenting the industry, we’re all going to end up with really bad user experiences in our (shared) cars.

Remember when Instagram didn’t make an official app for Blackberry and asked them to remove any third party Instagram apps on the platform because they were violating their terms of use? That’s how it’s going to feel, driving one of these future self-driving cars. It’s going to feel like we’re using BlackBerries!

Apple and Google have taken attempts to streamline the experience with Android Auto, and CarPlay. But they seem to not be getting much traction as car manufacturers are realizing that there’s a huge potential to make money from the infotainment systems in their cars when they are self-driving. They would have the user’s attention and that presents the opportunity to show them ads or have them subscribe to their services.

But here’s the problem. If the infotainment system in my car is going to suck and not have all of my favourite apps, I’m just going to start bringing my iPad to the car and mounting it to the dashboard.

So unless all these car startups actually want all of their customers to mount an iPad over their complicated dashboard, entertainment hub, health monitoring, attention seeking displays in their cars, they better get their acts together and start integrating with systems that already exist. iOS, Android, Windows, and macOS.

Cars will never be the center of our digital world, because we are not always en-route. But when we are, they need to integrate with what we are already doing and carrying with ourselves. I want to get in my car and continue what I was watching on my iPhone, but now on the bigger display on the dashboard. And when that happens my phone simply turns into the remote for the screens. The passenger wants to get in and continue browsing Instagram on their Android, but now on the larger display. Each passenger gets their own share of the display. If we decide to watch something together, then it would be in the middle.

So please, stop trying to be the next smart device in my life, and start embracing being a peripheral to your customer’s already existing digital world.

Signed,
Everyone who’s excited about self-driving cars.