In automotive electronics, the issue is not innovation. It is how much innovation we all can stand.
One of the biggest revelations to come out of last month’s Ward’s Auto Interiors Show is that there can, indeed, be too much of a good thing when it comes to in-vehicle electronics: too many channels; too many varieties of information and entertainment beamed into our vehicles; too many methods for receiving it.
As suppliers fall over themselves to give consumers more of everything, they are failing in two crucial areas: simplicity and ease of use.
revved up the debate in 2001 when it introduced its controversial iDrive human-machine interface (HMI).
Instead of making life easier, iDrive annoyed drivers and proved to be a customer-satisfaction problem for the Bavarian auto maker.
The iDrive and similar HMI devices since have been made easier to use, but feature proliferation promises to only get worse.
XM and Sirius Satellite Radio now offer thousands of music and information choices. Both are talking about introducing streaming in-vehicle video as well as weather, real-time traffic updates and even help in finding a parking place.
High Definition radio, in addition to vastly improved AM and FM reception, offers the ability to receive multiple channels on the same station and numerous data and navigation services as well as future capabilities such as on-demand audio.
Motorola Digital Media Services soon will offer cell phones that can connect wirelessly with hundreds of music and talk channels, download music and then link with car and home entertainment systems via Bluetooth connections.
All are competing with the Apple iPod MP3 player that is carving a wide swath in this burgeoning market as auto makers make iPod connectivity a high priority.
Beyond infotainment are increasingly common navigation and telematics systems that require thick instruction booklets or lengthy DVD presentations in order to be used properly.
Adding features does not automatically make a device better. In fact, it often does the reverse, making it confusing to operate and more vulnerable to glitches.
I am intrigued by the possibility of being able to listen to Ukrainian folk music or other esoteric music genres 24/7, but not if it takes hours of combing through a manual to figure out how to do it.
Vice Chairman Bob Lutz summed it up during his keynote address at the interiors show when he cautioned too much technology can muddy up the vehicle-driver interface and backfire with customers.
“It has to be about added value, not added headaches,” he said.