Speaking with CarAdvice at the Ford GT innovation forum in Detroit today, the company’s senior technical leader for Human Machine Interface (HMI), Jeff Greenberg, noted that smartphone manufacturers do not have the equivalent experience to develop interfaces for drivers.
“[Apple and Google] do have an enormous amount of experience especially in interfacing with communication devices and entertainment,” Greenberg said.
"They’ve created an ecosystem that customers find very compelling, but they are not really experienced at doing these things at 70-80 miles per hour."
“That’s really something that this industry understands in ways that others don’t. So I still think there’s still a better role for us to try and understand how to architect this design.”
Ford introduced its latest infotainment system, Sync 3, in December last year, ditching long-term partner Microsoft, which produced the MyFord Touch system (Sync 2 in Australia) used in the latest FG X Falcon and SZ MkII Territory, in favour of the QNX system from once-dominant smartphone maker Blackberry.
The new system takes a completely different approach to interface design, with Ford HMI experts focusing on reducing the visual demand required to perform simple tasks while also removing task interruption penalties (e.g. timeouts).
Other manufacturers, such as Ferrari, Volvo, Skoda and Hyundai, have taken a slightly different approach, conceding that Apple’s CarPlay surpasses their infotainment interface and voice recognition systems and that customers prefer the familiarity of iOS (and Android) interfaces over custom manufacturer systems. All four have already launched vehicles with full Apple CarPlay integration.
Since its introduction in 2011, there has been a great deal of criticism of MyFord Touch. So much so that upon its introduction the unreliability of the system was noted by J.D. Power & Associates as the primary factor contributing to a decline in Ford's standing in the 2011 Initial Quality Survey of new car purchasers from fifth in 2010 to 23rd.
Greenburg defends the outgoing system as it was launched before the established digital paradigm for interface took hold.
“The original MyFord Touch design was pre-iPhone, there wasn’t a consensus in society that the obvious way to organise digital data was through a grid of icons that represented a specific app. That came with the iPhone and iOS.
“So that was something that was learned by people using millions of devices around the world and so when MyFord Touch was designed that wasn’t the paradigm. What happened was that when people started using their mobile phones they adopted a different mental model and then they went into their cars and started looking for that mental model and they didn’t see it, so the interface wasn’t familiar.”
Although his comments seem to suggest that Ford would still be better off using the familiar interface of iOS and Android, Sync 3 debuted with a unique but much-improved and faster-responding interface.
Nonetheless, Ford admits both smartphone systems will be integrated into Sync 3 as part of Ford’s future infotainment system planning.
“We do work with partners that you mention and we do think there’s a role for those systems. One of our challenges is integrating them together so customers aren’t constantly wondering what mode they are in or how to figure out how to switch from one interface to another.”
What do you think: should car manufacturers hand over the infotainment interface to the likes of Google and Apple?