Clueless / by Damon Lavrinc

Automakers have to design infotainment systems that will work even if the motorist doesn’t have a smartphone or a data plan.

That’s Automotive News’ “special correspondent” David Sedgwick on why the auto industry will always be lagging behind the consumer electronics world. They will be, but not for the reasons Sedgwick cites.

Let’s start with the quote above. Yes, everyone doesn’t have a smartphone with a data connection. But affordable data plans with subsidized smartphones aren’t just around the corner, they’re already commonplace. The last batch of stats comes from Vision Mobile (download) that states smartphones cover 63% of the mobile market in North America. At its current growth rate, we’ll be well into the 80s by the end of the year.

Secondly, Sedgwick provides this gem about Apple’s voice command feature with no real explanation: 

Siri draws on the limitless computing power of “the cloud” to understand and answer the user’s questions.

Correct, every car doesn’t have the computing power necessary to process natural language voice commands, so it will have to rely on “the cloud” to handle the heavy lifting. But does the average Automotive News reader even know what The Cloud means? What it is? What it does? Sedgwick leaves it up to the AN peanut gallery to decipher and does his readers a disservice in the process.

With a broadband data connection (LTE ported through either a tethered smartphone or embedded modem) coupled with processors in the cloud, voice recognition won’t be an issue. And if automakers are smart and focus on a combination of modular infotainment systems and reliable data connections, this won’t be an issue in the three-to-four year timeframe Sedgwick enlists.

Second, the Apple iPhone – or any other smartphone, for that matter – relies heavily on visual readouts. But if you are barreling down the highway at 80 mph, you can’t afford to squint at your display screen to sort out lunchtime options. 

Sedgwick assumes that the interface of both smartphones and cars isn’t going to change. If (very recent) history is any example, he’s dead wrong. As I’ve maintained for a while, the next great in-car innovation is going to come in the UX realm and the automaker that figures out how to combine voice with a road-friendly UI is going to rule the decade. And that day is not far off.

And finally this:

Sure, automakers are using HTML5, the industry standard for presenting Web content, to create user-friendly graphics. But HTML5 is a tool – not a panacea.

I’d break this down, but it’s so off base it was barely worth the effort to copy, paste and delete the Tynt code.

So, bottom line: if you want accurate analysis of where the automotive industry is going, AN and Sedgwick aren’t it. Or to further crib our editorialist’s final line: maybe they’ll catch up – eventually.