Phone Industry Changed Forever. Automotive Industry: You’re Next.

When Steve Jobs launched the iPhone over a decade ago, it surely revolutionized the whole phone industry. It did not only have a well working touch screen, but it had completely rethought the usability from the ground up. If you look at the history of phones from the very beginning (I’m talking about you, Mr. Bell), you can see that until the point iPhone was launched, the progress of phone usability was just evolving slowly. Makers added new features over the old ones: the dial ring was replaced with a 10-Key buttons, added with Call and End-Call buttons, Volume buttons, Menu buttons, Scroll buttons… when camera was added, so was the camera button. Music player? You guessed it: more buttons.

“Automotive space is going through changes similar to the phone industry’s over a decade ago.”

Then there was digital menu, and buttons to control it. Even full Qwerty-keyboard was added to some phone models for business users to type emails quickly. At its peak, there was actually over 40 individual buttons on a pocket-size mobile phone, sharing the front surface with the screen! Apple looked at these “feature rich phones” at the time, listed all the functions this small pocket size gadget would do and figure out how to use it in the most intuitive, natural way.

LEARNINGS FROM THE PHONE INDUSTRY

There are many things we can learn from how phones have been changing, and how people have changed with them. I’m not talking only about the touch screen to add virtual buttons, but the set of gestures and even the orientation and movement of the device itself to control the different functions. Although the difference is magnificent, that all quickly become a new standard that we take for granted today.

Automotive space is going through similar changes right now. We can see a lot of similarities to the phone industry over a decade a go: more advanced features are added over the old ones: a online connection, advanced driving aids, wide array of entertainment, to mention a few. And then there is the end customer. Yes, the person who actually uses the car – She lives with Smartphone. She wants the car to be the same.

So, should we just slap a smart phone or a tablet to the dashboard and call it a day? No. Not even close.

RETHINKING THE USABILITY

What iPhone did to the phone was not just get rid of the physical buttons, but fundamentally rethinking the way we interact with the device. Just substituting the physical buttons on device with same buttons on the touch screen, the usability do not get any better. It could become even worse, as the screen buttons lacks the only positive thing physical buttons have: the tactile feel.

“Should we just slap a tablet to the dashboard and call it a day? No. Not even close.”

What the phone revolution taught us is how radically we could rethink the automotive usability if we really want to create user friendly “mobile device on wheels”. For example, rotating the vertical shaped phone to sideways is a natural way of watch a landscape movie. Naturally we can not exactly copy this to a car (although a image of somebody flipping the car sideways to rotate the center console on dashboard would be funny idea), but we can rethink the usability of the car in the same radical ways, using natural movement or gestures to interact. In the same way, we don’t necessary need to present the information on the dash as mimicking the gauges in the past – we can rethink how the vital information can be showed to the driver or occupant in simple, user-friendly manner. And then there are the steps to be considered when talking about user experience roadmap towards autonomous driving. There are lots to take in.

I’ll go through these topics in detail with coming blog posts. Stay tuned!

Joona Kallio, Creative Lead, is a visionary designer and an electric vehicle enthusiast who is responsible of the future direction and creative development at Link Motion. This life long car guy grew up in Japan, soaked in a visually rich, high-tech landscape and has made a colorful career as a designer and entrepreneur in Finland.