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Designing the AccuWeather App for Android Automotive OS

Written by: Lance Xie, Product Designer, TribalScale

Designing for a new platform is always a fun challenge for most designers. Designing for a new vehicle infotainment system is even better, at least for me, a former automotive designer. It gives me the opportunity to combine my love for cars with my passion for digital products.

Traditionally, cars didn’t have screens, and all the human-machine interactions were initiated through physical buttons and knobs. Recently, screens started to popularize with most OEMs developing their infotainment system in-house, thus one brand can be drastically different from the other even for the most basic features. Sometimes people encounter steep learning curves switching brands. Don’t get me wrong, there are a handful of OEMs that nailed their in-house infotainments, some even became their key value propositions to the consumer market.

AccuWeather app on Android Automotive OS

Recently at TribalScale, I had the chance to design AccuWeather’s Android Automotive OS (AAOS) weather app. AAOS is a built-in infotainment platform powered by Android. Unlike the ‘plug and play’ compromise of Android Auto (or CarPlay), it’s a fully integrated system that supports the infotainment of the vehicle from production.

Check out our previous articles where we:

In this article I’ll be sharing my recent experience designing for AAOS.

Android Automotive OS

Challenges

AAOS is so new, there are only a few production cars that run on it (less than 5 models at this time). During my primary research, I discovered that there weren’t many apps in the AAOS store as you would expect in the Google Play Store. Thus, there are no references to look at and get inspiration from. We needed to build from the ground up, figuring out what were the jobs-to-be-done, considering the user is also the driver.

We also needed to balance the needs with vehicle safety. For example, there’s a driving state and a parking state, apps and features will be locked and unlocked for certain states. For displaying information, we can’t just follow the accessibility guidelines, but we also must consider the information hierarchies to best accommodate the user to perceive at a glance. Overall, designing for automotive can be very different from other platforms, there is a lot to consider.

Limitations

A sprint or two after the AccuWeather project kickoff, our team faced an unpredictable blocker. AAOS suddenly released a new guideline update, which included a new set of rules for several application categories. Those rules were strict and specific, and the type of app we were designing (weather app) wasn’t even included in any of the categories mentioned in the guidelines. We tried to communicate, but it was impossible to wait on any changes from AAOS that would fit in the timeline.

Since digital products update iteratively, the build must continue. There were many concept explorations and good ideas that had to wait until later. But this is the reality when working on a brand new platform, the rules will be somewhat conservative at the beginning. Being able to find solutions within the limitations is a key skill for a product designer.

The Future is Bright

Given that we had our struggles with challenges and limitations, I am still optimistic about the future. AAOS has the potential to “Android-ify” vehicle infotainment. The platform has become more holistic and inclusive, vehicles with AAOS will allow you to log in to your Google profile, access the Play Store to download your favourite apps that are optimized for vehicle environments, and eventually turn the vehicle into a part of your Google/Android ecosystem.

More product designers and developers will be collaborating to create automotive experiences. Users will benefit from a more free market, with more options better suited to their needs and preferences. From what we see now, AAOS will also have the ability to seamlessly cascade to different countries and regions for geographical optimization.

Designing for Automotive Features

Designing for physical versus digital requires slightly different product thinking. There are still aspects of desirability, feasibility, and viability to consider, and also driving safety and task priorities must be balanced.

Soon enough, human factors will become important even for designing digital solutions. Unlike holding a tablet where you are free to adjust your posture, in-car screens are fixed (more or less). There is a reference called the reach envelope, it’s critical when designing automotive interior features.

Reach Envelope (SAE J287)

Releasing new features for automotive environments faces a more strict reviewing process. Factors like driving safety, manufacturing regulation, and OEM specifications set a higher bar for launching on AAOS. Product designers need to consider the requirements systematically and forecast different types of edge cases. Likely, for product teams, negotiation and finding smart workarounds will become part of the standard activity.

Android is certainly an impactful and disruptive force in the automotive world. TribalScale and AccuWeather’s work with AAOS is essentially trailblazing a path for the future and changing the entire landscape of what’s possible. I can’t wait to see how others will contribute to this new ecosystem.

For more information about our Android Automotive capabilities, click here to speak with one of our experts.

Lance is a Toronto-based Product Designer here at TribalScale. Outside of work, his favourite activities include taking road trips, shooting photos, and feeding farm animals.

TribalScale is a global innovation firm that helps enterprises adapt and thrive in the digital era. We transform teams and processes, build best-in-class digital products, and create disruptive startups. Learn more about us on our website. Connect with us on Twitter, LinkedIn & Facebook!

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