At the annual Worldwide Developer’s Conference (WWDC) in June 2013, Apple announced that their new iOS7 operating system will be available in many 2014 vehicle models. In-car iOS7 promises some exciting features – all of which are powered by Siri – including:
Drivers will be able to begin and end calls while driving (without taking their eyes off the road)
Erivers will also be able to listen and reply to text messages while driving (again without distraction)
Integration of iPhone apps like maps and navigation, reminders, etc.
Whoa, powered by Siri? The same Siri that makes wild mistakes transcribing even the simplest of text messages? That Siri? Samuel L. Jackson TV commercials aside, Siri is still a work in progress. While consumers seem to like using Siri to look up information (77% of Siri-capable iPhone owners use Siri for this task, according to Parks Associates), most find Siri inferior to old-fashioned touch screen typing for more complex actions like texting.
Please don’t misunderstand my reservations with in-car iOS7 as simple Siri bashing. As problematic as Siri is, it is great compared to the status quo. It’s just that there’s a big difference between “better than the status quo” and good. It is hard to believe that Apple has convinced Honda, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Ferrari, Chevy, Infiniti, Kia, Hyundai, Volvo, Acura, Opel and Jaguar to make iOS7 available in some of their 2014 models. In my opinion, this integration will hurt everyone involved.
Here’s Why iOS7 Is A Lose-Lose-Lose Proposition
There are three obvious and difficult to fix problems with integrating iOS7 into the average vehicle:
Some consumers are brain-dead when it comes to technology. These people don’t know how it works, and can’t or won’t bother to learn. These technophobes can be expected to complain bitterly about the fact that their new $120,000 Jaguar can’t understand a simple text message.
Automakers are in charge of the hardware! Guess what makes an iPhone so awesome? The perfect integration of hardware and software. Do you think Chevy (or Kia or Nissan) is going to build a touch-screen dash unit that seamlessly works with iOS7? Me neither.
Some consumers won’t know or care about who’s to blame. Whether it’s bad hardware or bad software, consumers aren’t going to differentiate.
The result here is what I like to call a lose-lose-lose proposition.
Losing Across the Board
Automakers will lose because they’ve integrated iOS7 into their products too quickly. Consumers are going to complain about iOS7’s inadequacies, and these complaints are going to hurt each automaker’s rankings with Consumer Reports, JD Power, etc. These rankings in turn affect sales and revenue.
Apple will lose because consumers won’t be able to completely differentiate between bad design and bad software. Even if Chevy’s hardware is terrible (and I’m all but certain it will be), Apple is going to get at least some of the blame from the consumer. Apple’s reputation for awesome user interfaces is almost certainly going to suffer.
Finally, consumers will lose because they are being promised a system that can’t possibly meet their expectations. This isn’t a reflection on Apple or the automakers involved so much as it’s a reflection on the technological challenge. In-car systems are still in their infancy – no one knows how they are supposed to work.
Put the Brakes on It
The concept of outsourcing in-car operating system design to an expert like Apple is a good one, especially for automakers who already have a lot on their plates. However, it’s too soon for Apple to get involved. In another couple of years, consumers and automakers will both have a much greater understanding of the problem. Then – and only then – should Apple’s foray into vehicle operating systems begin.
Jason Lancaster is a long-time auto industry observer who has used many in-car operating systems, from Ford’s MyTouch to Toyota’s Entune to Cadillac’s CUE. When Jason isn’t critiquing touch screens, he’s working with Olathe Toyota Parts Center, who sells OEM Toyota parts online.