Taking on today’s in-dash navigation challenges
George de Boer·Mar 30, 2021

Taking on today’s in-dash navigation challenges

George de Boer
Global Director Marketing Automotive
Mar 30, 2021 · 9 min read
Taking on Today’s In-Dash Navigation Challenges | TomTom Newsroom

The modern automobile is a moving marvel of innovation. It streams music, sends texts, shares real-time traffic info and even drives autonomously in controlled situations. Consumers have come to expect features like these as a given. But for the carmakers tasked with building in-dash navigation that lives up to these demands, it’s taken serious time, money and effort to reach where we are today – and the journey is far from over.

For decades, competition in the automotive industry has focused on who has the most horsepower, top fuel economy or fastest acceleration. Fast forward to today and it’s all about design and having the slickest infotainment system with multiple screens and the best connectivity.

As the battle lines move from under the hood to behind the dashboard, let’s explore what triggered that shift, what challenges carmakers face in bringing a more connected experience into the vehicle, and what solutions can help them drive the next generation of embedded navigation.

It all started with the smartphone

In the mid-2000’s, smartphones began to leverage GPS – changing the navigation game as we know it. These little devices brought big changes to the way we navigate, offering easy online search, regular updates and rich data on everything from traffic to local businesses. What’s more, they connected navigation with all other aspects of your digital life, bringing your contacts, music, favorite destinations right into your car.

With all this power in the palm of their hand, consumers naturally want to bring it into the car. However, most current in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) systems don’t meet these expectations, especially when compared to the responsiveness, freshness and feature-richness of smartphones.

According to a study by J.D. Power, “19% of new-vehicle owners who have factory-installed navigation don't use it and, of these, 70% use another device instead, almost always a smartphone.” Conditioned to the smartphone experience, drivers expect maps to automatically stay up to date: They don't want to have to think about costs or deal with tedious update processes. They expect navigation to adapt to their evolving needs, with not only accurate software, but also faster feature rollouts. In short, consumers want a smartphone experience in the dashboard.

Why it’s difficult for carmakers to meet these new expectations

In a market where consumers have come to expect a smartphone-like experience all the time, carmakers face many challenges in delivering in-dash navigation that lives up to these lofty expectations.

Long development cycles and limited focus on UX

Software development for devices such as smartphones is a relatively simple process that takes approximately six months. OEMs, on the other hand, take around two to three years to develop IVI systems.

That’s because automotive software development – for infotainment, navigation and management of the vehicle as a whole – is closely tied to hardware development. Most carmakers also freeze software one year after the start of production, which results in new cars rolling off the line with old software. It’s no wonder that drivers will abandon their outdated IVI system for a smartphone with the latest software and up-to-date maps.

Additionally, a limited focus on UX means that users often find interfaces frustrating, difficult to control and unpredictable in comparison to UX-centric smartphone apps. It’s key to find a balance that meets both drivers’ and automakers’ needs.

Connectivity issues

Initially, embedded navigation was offline-only. Unlike a smartphone, you couldn’t connect to the internet to access real-time services like traffic updates and weather forecasts. It also meant that you weren’t always driving with the latest map – and if you wanted to bring things up to date, it meant taking a trip to the dealership so they could install the latest map (at a cost, of course).

Things progressed with drivers having the option to download updates themselves and installing via a USB or SD card at a more affordable cost. However, it was a lengthy, most of the times user-unfriendly process that not everyone managed to complete to the end.

Thankfully, much of that has changed today, with the latest navigation systems designed to work online and offering over-the-air map and sometimes even regular software updates. However, always-on connectivity remains a challenge. Depending on where you are in the world, network coverage isn’t always reliable. If all your navigation data is delivered from the cloud, what happens when a vehicle travels out of network range and loses connectivity?

Although connectivity is widely available, it still does not come for free and streaming navigation can become a costly undertaking. Carmakers need a way to ensure that customers drive with the most up-to-date information, and without gaps in their service because of connectivity issues at affordable data connectivity rates.

For regions where connectivity is reliable, and carmakers want to offer premium car lines the answer is easy. Simply make sure the data costs are part of the offer. Premium drivers are more than willing pay to stay connected, as part of the one-off price for the first years and through additional connectivity bundles thereafter. For volume car lines – even when connectivity is available – this is a bigger challenge. Margins are small and the alternative of screen-mirroring with bring-your-own apps is bigger. The driver will still pay for data connectivity but does not have to go through the hassle of smartphone pairing or activation.

The key to success for the carmaker here lies in a user-friendly activation of in-dash navigation and services and an easy renewal process. This will not only give the driver more comfort and safety (using the close integration with the car and keeping their eyes on the road) but will also save them money. The connectivity is tailored to the in-vehicle car usage for longer drives.

Making the most of the service

Traditionally, carmakers have sold embedded navigation as a one-off bundle that can cost the customer thousands. This one-off payment may make sense in the short-term but leaves carmakers without potential future revenue streams.

With cloud technology moving closer to the front-and-center of navigation, the “car-as-a-service” model is picking up steam. Rather than a one-time purchase, carmakers are reframing navigation and infotainment as more of a rolling subscription service, where ideally the customer pays a monthly fee to access the latest maps and online services, such as live traffic info.

It’s a useful monetization opportunity with the desired user experience, but it also means the carmaker needs to invest in a hurdle-free digital journey for the driver. This needs to be part of the design of the car and cannot be implemented when cars have been delivered to the customer or engineered when the trial period is over.

Lack of flexibility and customization

Faced with the need to bring a more smartphone-like experience into the vehicle, some OEMs have turned to big tech to help develop connected navigation and infotainment systems.

While smartphone tech can offer a robust, mature product, it comes at the cost of locking carmakers into a one-size-fits-all platform. This makes it difficult to integrate third-party tech with OEMs’ own software, content or tools from other suppliers, and they lose the ability to tailor the look-and-feel and features to their brand – leaving carmakers without a way to distinguish themselves from competitors.

Protecting driver privacy

The car should first and foremost offer a safe way to travel. Drivers don’t need distraction in the form of adverts – which increasingly seem to be the price users pay for “free” navigation apps.

Some technology firms are also looking to monetize drivers’ data for their own gain – meaning that OEMs could potentially lose control of their customers’ privacy if they are not careful about the agreements they make with technology providers.

As an independent company powered by data, we know how important it is to keep customer data protected. That’s why TomTom takes a privacy-first approach: we design our products and services to protect customers’ personal data, not use it for profit.

Integrating it all with the car

For basic navigation from A to B, your standard smartphone with a 5-inch screen does the job. But the modern car has large screens, ranging from 13 inches to multiple screens with a combined display area of some 75 inches in luxury models. These screens are no longer limited to the center stack and the cluster either. The head-up display (HUD) is appearing in more vehicles and we have seen the first passenger display come to life as well. The next step is augmented reality that allows for even more tailored content in the right place at the right moment for the driver. Projecting the right information on all these screens in a consistent way requires proper UX research insights, coupled with a holistic design and development approach.

But there is more than the simply displaying the data. The days of turning a knob and tapping buttons to enter your destination are almost over. Touch screens are here to stay, but voice control is quickly gaining ground as the easiest, fastest and safest way forward – that is, if your car does not already know where to go thanks to integration with your calendar or based on previous driving behavior.

Under the hood, there are more sensors for IVI systems to integrate with. Dead-reckoning has been there from the earliest days to make sure the car knows it positioning between buildings or in tunnels. Today, the in-dash connects to everything from camera sensors and in-vehicle control systems to past driving behavior, live traffic and local weather info.

For EV drivers, range anxiety becomes a thing of the past, thanks to close integration of in-dash systems and location services with vehicle battery status and consumption models, showing exactly how much charge they have left and where they can recharge along the route.

Similarly, integration of advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) maps with cameras provide 95% accurate speed limit information in the cluster or HUD. Advanced mapping, sensors and the navigation UI enable worry-free lane level navigation, nudging the driver to the right lane when it is safe to do so. All making the driving experience safer and more comfortable.

Navigation for a new generation

It’s not just about keeping up with smartphones – to get consumers fully on board with embedded navigation, carmakers need to deliver an experience that no smartphone app can match. And with TomTom’s stack of location technology and online services, OEMs can do just that.

The latest evolution in our offering – TomTom Navigation for Automotive – is the most comprehensive navigation solution on the market today. Cloud-native and online first, our full navigation stack is designed to combat the pain points of delivering connected, adaptable in-vehicle navigation.

Interested in learning more about the next generation of TomTom navigation?

Watch our webinar: Cloud-native in-dash navigation from the experts: Introducing TomTom Navigation for Automotive.

With next-generation in-dash navigation from TomTom, not only can carmakers keep up with the experience of smartphone navigation, they can also outperform it. Drivers get navigation that is both seamless and safe – making the drive easier and the roads a better place for us all.

Want to find out more about how TomTom Navigation for Automotive can help you redefine the in-dash experience?

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