I recently bought a Nissan Leaf (nice car). It has a dashboard display that is a touch screen about the size of an iPad. This incorporates GPS navigation, Bluetooth connection to my cell phone, radio/CD/USB player, and more. The system also includes voice recognition for control. The provided functionality is pretty much everything you will want in a car.
And it sucks.
By any standard from four years ago it’s amazing. And by a checklist of features it has everything you want today. But the UI is clunky and awkward. The voice recognition is merely a way to select from the menus – it does not provide shortcuts. And it’s not that good at determining what you are saying.
I think many of the people designing software for places other than the iPad, like automobiles, figure that they will be held to a lesser standard. I don’t think that’s the case. The advances in UX (User eXperience) on mobile and tablet systems has been incredible over the last several years. Consumers expect to see that same advanced UX in all devices they interact with.
It’s a reasonable demand. There is no technical reason Nissan could not have created as good a UX system for the Leaf. They would have needed to hire a Silicon Valley consulting group but that cost is minimal spread across all the Leafs sold. My guess is they didn’t think it mattered. They believed they would be compared to what the other car companies have created. But that belief is wrong – they’re being compared to what we all see every day using the iPad. They’re being compared to Siri.
Mark Andreessen famously said Software Is Eating the World. Very true. But a corollary of that, one that I think very few are aware of yet, is it is also making software key to the acceptability and value of every product that has a visible software component. This acceptability/value will be measured compared to all software used, not solely to directly competitive products.
In many industries the winners over the next 10 years will be the ones that realize that they need to become a software company that ships a product with their software. And that is a very difficult transformation for companies in industries where their focus for decades has solely been on the physical product. Like car companies.