Our Holistic Approach to In-car Software
Let’s go 15 years back in time. In 2007, most consumer software was device-based. We listened to music on an iPod, we navigated using physical navigation systems, and we used mobile phones to call and send messages.
Today, devices are not the focus anymore. We listen to music via Spotify, we navigate with Google Maps, and we call via WhatsApp or any of the dozen other messaging services.
Consumer software is ubiquitous. I can start writing a document on my work computer, return home, unlock my door with my watch, turn on the lights by voice command, transfer my music from my earphones to my home speaker, take my tablet and continue writing my document. Everything is connected. Everything but my car.
Even the most advanced cars today are a bit like a device from 15 years ago. Car companies approach software as something that is added to the car, with driving as the primary focus. As a result, cars aren’t really connected to anything and it forces most of the interactions to take place inside the vehicle.
Some brands offer a companion app. But even if you get it to work, they are not very advanced. The app is a way to connect to the infotainment system. Car companies approach the infotainment system and the app as two different products, often developed by two different teams (or companies).
Why is it important?
It is a mistake to think that all interaction with a car happens around driving. When you are sitting at home, you may want to plan a trip and send it to the car. Maybe you want to lend your car to friends and you want to give them remote access. Or you want to create a schedule to charge the car when it is most convenient.
Another reason is the commercial side. Any logistics or transportation company uses several connected services to plan, communicate and manage its fleet. A vehicle is a node in a complex network and it needs to communicate seamlessly with all services. Today, there is no way to manage vehicles in this network, other than with smartphones.
How are we tackling these challenges?
At Snapp Automotive, we are developing the next generation of in-car software. At the core of this, is our view that this software should be ubiquitous. We see all end-user software as one platform that is independent of the car, not as separate products. This gives us two benefits.
An end-user experience on par with the best tech products
One advantage of this approach is a holistic view of the user experience. We control what information we show in each context. Some of the features of our software platform are available inside the car, in the form of an infotainment system. Others are available via a smartphone app or other integrations. All with seamless connectivity between the devices on the platform. For example, there is no need to clutter the infotainment system with endless settings that are not relevant while driving. It is better to give access to those outside of the car via a smartphone. Like that, we can reduce the complexity of the infotainment system, resulting in higher usability and a product that is on par with other tech products.
An iterative design process
By approaching it as a software product that is independent of the car, we develop it like one. Since we started building our platform from scratch, we don’t look at what existing products are doing. Instead, we go back to the core of what people need inside and outside of the car, and iteratively build up our platform from there. To do this, we use a process that we call Evidence-Based Design. Like scientists, we have assumptions, which we test and validate using evidence. Thanks to our development experience, we can rapidly create realistic prototypes with Android Automotive that we use to test our assumptions.
Our goal is to create the best automotive end-user experience. Over the past months, we have laid the technical groundwork. More recently, we have built our vision, part of which we present in this post. We are now working on the design of the first version of our software platform. We plan to build it in public, using this blog to write about our progress. Stay tuned for more updates from the design and development side.