SBD completed a study of seven "high-profile" onboard navigation and infotainment systems from Renault, Audi, Opel, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, BMW and Citroen. Renault came in first place for usability, followed by Audi, Opel and Mercedes-Benz. Toyota, BMW and Citroen rounded out the bottom three cars.
In a survey involving 46 of those car owners, the drivers were able to complete simple tasks on the infotainment systems 40% of the time. The remaining 60% "got lost while navigating through the maze of different features."
Hart said the study revealed there are four categories of car infotainment systems. They are: Systems that provide both embedded and mobile apps; systems with apps that typically don't work well or fast enough to be used by drivers; systems with apps that are difficult to use; and systems with apps that distract and create safety issues.
"As an industry we're striving to develop Swiss army knives, instead of the spoons our customers want," Hart said.
Even car dealers struggle to explain to new car owners how infotainment systems work, Hart said. "There are too many complexities. And if we can't educate the dealers, we definitely can't educate the consumer."
Tesla, which used a Linux-based OS for its infotainment system, ranked high in usability with drivers.
Those on the user panel said the Tesla infotainment system was the easiest and "most intuitive" to use.
"We were very enamored with the Tesla. Not being tech savvy, I found the icons were huge and easy to use while driving and while parked," said Tina, another focus group member. "It was a fascinating system to me, and I'd seek that one out [as a car buyer]."
As for Wi-Fi in the car, the panel of drivers had mixed feelings. Some lauded the ability to work from the car or stream live entertainment for passengers, while others felt being connected "24 hours a day" wasn't necessary.
The focus group also had mixed feelings about in-car infotainment platforms that allow drivers to sync or pair their smartphones. Some liked the idea of having the most up-to-date technology and apps available through on-board telematics, while said it pigeon-holed them.
Ford Motor Co., the first manufacturer to offer in-car apps via the smartphone with its SYNC AppLink, offers apps from the iTunes App Store, Google Play or BlackBerry App World to be downloaded into the car's head unit, for example.
AppLink started out with a few radio and location-based services, but has expanded to dozens of such services. Earlier this year, Ford announced four more integrations: Parkopedia, a parking space finder; Parkmobile, an app that allows drivers to use their smartphones to pay for parking; Pulse, an ADT security app; and a Domino's Pizza ordering app.
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