A smartphone driven experience for the future of in-car UX

The state of the in-car user experience is something that has been written about extensively in 2015.

It’s an obvious point of contention. The in-car infotainment system has been subject to numerous criticisms and scrutiny with their outdated interfaces and less than stellar user experiences. Martin Oberhaeuser said it best:

For a few hundred bucks we can place powerful mini computers in our pockets with high resolution displays, precise touch technology and dozens of sensors. But in our cars we have to pay thousands of dollars for infotainment systems with small screens, outdated technologies and interface designs that seem 5 years old.
Current in-car interface, courtesy of KIA.com

The reasons for this are numerous. After working with KIA on their MyUVO connected car web application we found that most in-car infotainment systems are designed in conjunction with the rest of the car, 5+ years before they ever hit the market. With the high-level of QA scrutiny along with structural testing that goes into designing and manufacturing every aspect of most vehicles, its nearly impossible to change anything just before launch to satisfy the latest design trend.

With that in mind, we challenged ourselves to work within the constraints of today’s vehicle infotainment system and strive for a more cohesive experience from the mobile app to the in-car interface. Leveraging our knowledge of the existing KIA platform, we were able to validate a high-level of functionality and cross-platform communication from mobile device to automotive database.

Utilizing a Google design sprint structure, we set out to research, sketch, wireframe, comp and prototype our exploration, all within a 5-day period. The following outlines our findings and proposed conceptual directions for updating KIA’s K900 in-car UX.

We started off by considering how we might be able to leverage data collected from the car’s companion smartphone app to sync with driver behavior in the in-car experience. By passively collecting the driver’s location via enabled location services, we can start to detect patterns and normalities in everyday behavior. The majority of people take the same route to work, leave around the same time and have pretty predictable habits. By leveraging that data, your smartphone could monitor your normal routes and behaviors and send you recommendations, updates and alerts that could save you time with more direct and up-to-date driving routes.

For example, if your normal route to work has a severe traffic delay, you could receive an alert on your phone recommending an alternate route. Confirming the route via your smartphone would send the alternate route directly to your in-car navigation system. The route would automatically be loaded and queued up as soon as you got in your car. By working with the current MyUVO web app we learned how we were able to send commands from a smartphone that would be directly relayed to the in car infotainment system. While these technologies are still in need of some improvements, in terms of speed and response time, the process is promising.

While KIA may not have the largest or most impressive touchscreen interface, we challenged ourselves to work within the constraints of the tactile control center in their flagship K900 model sedan. Functioning more like a central hub for conventional mouse like controls, it forced us to look at the screen in different ways. Immediate feedback is needed for all actions, the same way you would expect your PC or smartphone to react, but we have the added challenge of multiple, interspersed controls and only one source of feedback. Manual inputs such as the temperature controls are displayed on the main application interface in one central location.

Without claiming to be industrial design experts we tried to draw some common sense safety and ergonomic conclusions by allowing the driver to control a majority of their media and comfort features from the infotainment dial controller and surrounding buttons so that the driver’s free hand rarely needs to leave the center console to reach for other controls.

To further the idea of “centralized control” we even incorporated ideas for utilizing the large infotainment screen for visual feedback on other digital controls throughout the car’s cabin. Immediate visual feedback is always available in the same central location, limiting the need for the driver’s eye to wander around the cabin while driving.

Allowing the user to choose what screens are important to them for taking quick action and setting what cabin buttons trigger certain screens. In this concept we imagined that the user could set quick screens within the UVO app that could be launched into a grid of thirds so that the user could quickly navigate between their three favorite in-car apps.

Navigation menu

Working within an establish grid system, we reimagined what this custom experience would look like. Using common gestures like the “double tap” we can conclude that a user’s expectation is to see any active applications as well as quickly navigate through all of their favorite app. In-car preferences, such as menu and favorites could easily be synced via the app.

Inset meeting alert

By integrating learned behavior from user patterns we can start to identify abnormal destinations that might require additional directions. By syncing with a user’s existing calendar application in their smartphone we can integrate alerts for off site meetings, pulling in directions as needed. Drivers would be alerted and routed to their destination automatically, without fumbling with clunky typing mechanisms or an irregular search function. Focusing on quick selection actions, we are relying more on the intuitive and familiar smartphone interfaces for lengthier text inputs and immersive data.

I want to emphasize that this is an early stage concept that was built with a week as a side project exploration. While KIA is a client of ours, this is not something that they commissioned us to do. We were simply satisfying our need to explore the options and ideas that came up as part of work creating their MyUVO web application interface. We will be continuing to work with KIA to bring these, and other concepts to life.

The good news is that these types of integrations are not too far fetched. With Apple and Google entering the market we are bound to see larger advancements in the industry in the near future. As the car infotainment system continues to evolve we should challenge the industry to look at the in-car experience as an extension of our other devices and not a completely stand alone experience.

For more background info, check out our website: seamgen.com