Everybody seems to want an infotainment system. Having access to your music, phone, and navigation right on your dashboard is a wonderful thing, unless it doesn’t work so well - and most don’t.
According to J.D. Power:
The top two problems reported by owners in the study are Bluetooth pairing and connectivity, and built-in voice recognition systems misinterpreting the driver’s commands. These were the same two problems most frequently reported by owners in last year’s Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS).
I, on the other hand, am so amazingly primitive that I still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea. My only experience with infotainment systems is in my Subaru BRZ, whose Starlink system is considered one of the less bad ones out there. My salesman sat in the car with me and helped me pair Bluetooth with my phone, but his help wasn’t necessary. It worked on the first try, and has connected automatically every time since then. But considering all the general complaints about Bluetooth, it was very smart of him to make sure my car didn’t even roll off the lot until he was certain it was set up properly. Are other dealers this diligent?
Voice recognition, however, is pretty lousy. I can make phone calls okay, but forget trying to give the navigation system a destination. Even worse, it locks out most touchscreen functions if you’re in motion, so you can’t enter a destination while driving. Even your passenger can’t. You have to either fight the voice commands or stop to enter a destination. I’ve found it faster and easier to just pull over and punch it in. It’s inconvenient, but better than fighting the lousy voice command interface.
The navigation itself could be better, too. For starters, despite my car being a 2014 model, it came with maps from 2011. You can buy updated maps from Subaru, and I’ve read on the Toyobaru forums that a complaint to customer service will get you a free update without difficulty. I haven’t bothered. Most of the time the navigation itself works fairly well. Sometimes it doesn’t choose the optimum route, yet it usually gets you there eventually. If I have time, I tend to double check its route against Google Maps, especially if I’m heading somewhere far away or I’m on a tight schedule.
But when it screws up, it screws up big. A few times it’s taken me all the way to the opposite side of a city from where I actually needed to be. Also, it doesn’t take traffic into consideration, which can be a huge issue in areas with heavy traffic. Yes, I can subscribe to XM NavTraffic, which my car supports, but during my three month free trial when I first got the car I found the traffic information provided to not be useful, and have no effect on what route it chooses. It just plotted the same route and told me, “Oh, bee tee dubs, you’re going to be late.” So I’ve given up using it for navigation, and use Waze on my phone instead. It works far more reliably and has many features that no infotainment system has.
So it’s no wonder that many manufacturers are turning to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em! There’s no need to reinvent the wheel as auto manufacturers have been doing up until now. People are already familiar with the Apple and Android user interfaces, so these should be much easier to use, and hopefully overcome the major issues that current infotainment systems have. In fact, some people already mount a tablet in front of their stock system, or replace it entirely.
It makes perfect sense. This is what Apple and Google do. They’ve done far more research and development on smartphone and tablet user interfaces than the auto manufacturers and their subcontractors. Expecting automakers to design a great infotainment system is like expecting software manufacturers to build a great car. Oh wait...
But when it comes to infotainment systems, I, for one, welcome our mobile OS overlords. It seems the best and quickest way to make vast improvements over what we struggle with now.
(Photo credits: Justin Hughes, ft86club.com)