Car companies have learned little from smartphones

With all this 10th anniversary talk of the iPhone going on sale, I can’t help but look back at all the devices disrupted by that rectangular slab of software and silicon, with one notable exception. The list includes wristwatches and bedside alarm clocks; remote controls and light switches; point-and-shoot cameras; printed maps and calendars; and home stereos and MP3 players, including Apple’s own iPod. In retrospect, the changes were as swift as they were decisive. But there’s one holdout that’s still ripe for disruption: cars.

The rise of the iPhone, eclipsed by an even higher summit scaled by Android, has set the baseline expectation for how we listen to audio, communicate with others, and interact with the devices around us. Three billion people now use smartphones globally, after all, compared to about 1 billion autos on the road. But stepping into a new car today is like being asked to use a Nokia E62 as your daily driver. The experience is shockingly archaic, as if the last 10 years of progress never happened. Our ScreenDrive car reviews should have made this point abundantly clear by now.

A JD Power survey released a few weeks ago reflects the dismal state of consumer tech in cars. “Audio/communication/entertainment/navigation (ACEN) remains the area where new-vehicle owners experience the most problems,” says the survey, but it’s also the category that shows the most improvement since last year. Reuters reports that this progress, meager as it is, will be good news for younger car buyers who claim to be more interested in in-car tech than in car tech — i.e., millennials are less concerned with torque than they are accessing their Spotify playlists over a car’s audio system. Forty-one percent of millennial car buyers (and 38 percent overall) want the latest technology in their vehicles, according to the research published by Mintel. Moreover, 70 percent of millennials are willing to pay extra for an infotainment system in their next vehicle, compared to just 30 percent of Baby Boomers… and 100 percent of Verge readers.

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