The self driving car is a concept that will soon be reality after a decade of testing and crashing, both physically and on the software side. In the interim, drivers can expect that communication with their car will be just as intimate – both when driving as well as when the car is in the garage.
The progress made in terms of the collaborative potential of devices speaking to each other and the way we use and design cars, will require adaptation. Mobile applications will need to include protocols for driving and perhaps for specific models of cars, but it does not even begin to cover all of the usability issues of driver-to-car interactions or car-to-car interactions.
Going Beyond Media
At the moment both Apple and Google have design and style guides for development of incar media and information management. CarPlay by Apple brings together core functions of a media system, like Maps, iTunes, and Dialer. The issue regarding this story is that unless you’re a software engineer at a major car manufacturer, design and development is sort of outreach:
In the same vein, the integration of familiar platforms, like Android or iOS, allow drivers a sensible and a conditioned intuitiveness regarding their traveling experience. Button location and application navigation behave just as they would on any other mobile device.
iTunes has a familiar user experience and any avid iOS user will immediately recognize and pickup on usage. This type of development for usability is only a polishing of the ‘first step of nextgen,’ smart device integration.
The Second Step of ‘NextGen.’
FitBit has been a huge success in the tech market. Some of the reasons behind the success are directly related to the fact users get to see real-time data on themselves . Big data about yourself is big business. Applying this type of feature to other domains will soon include the automobile – yes – a FitBit-esque application for cars is already being developed for some by car manufacturers. Your driving habits won’t be limited to the information available on your dashboard computer anymore.
The Nissan Leaf is one of the first automobiles to have it’s own dedicated mobile application . It offers way more than just entertainment and GPS accessories. Every relevant measurable is provided to the user so that they can use it to make more informed decision making while driving – and while not driving. This is a completely electric car, as well as a true smart car.
Users can control the climate of their car remotely. If it’s a blazing hot day or a bitter cold day, the user can adjust the settings from their office for instance, and step into preferred accommodations from a finger swipe.
The UX developers in charge of the project had some unique ideas and challenges. For instance, Since the Leaf is an electric vehicle, it is important to know when the battery is fully charged (to avoid overcharging, even with failsafe protocols) or when the battery needs a recharge. From a usability standpoint, the mobile notification or alert becomes a very useful tool. So now the car talks, letting users know when it needs a charge or is about to hit empty on its battery.
In future interactions perhaps the UX team will correspond common drives and estimate what day or time you might need to charge, all from an application. Thinking in this mindset is the natural domain of the usability geek, and the Smart Car won’t just be a brand but a full service suite of software products.
Some of the most popular aspects of mobile UX are fully translatable to a smart car. ‘Find My iPhone,’ could become a branded franchise of software. So in the near future users may see ‘Find My BMW,’ or ‘Find My Fiat,’ if they suspect their car was stolen or they’re in an amusement park parking lot. Automatic locks will take new meaning (as they already have with many key FOBs) and will open the doors as you approach. Bluetooth-enabled ignition switches aren’t just half baked concepts.
For now, major app developers have only begun approaching new ideas and methods for implementing software that really utilizes all the data a vehicle can necessarily provide. This is, however, a frontier. The FitBit for a car solution doesn’t exist because the usability hasn’t necessarily been explored by a third party. Despite the Nissan Leaf app being launched in 2011, it will take a car like the Toyota Camry, Honda Civic or Ford F150, which have very high rates of sales, to bring this concept into the mainstream.
A Mind of it’s Own
Finally, it’s not just dedicated mobile apps that users will consume in relation to their car. Parking garages, home garages, smart houses, and gas stations will all need development in order for the device networking to run smoothly. So design and development for vehicles is not exclusive to just vehicles. Considering all the interactions involved with personal travel will be part of the usability research and development to be expected in the next few years.