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Tech has become too complex: Audi

Digital native: Audi reckons its in-car technology is becoming too complicated and is working on ways to make the user experience easier for drivers.

Buttons flicked as future Audi touchscreens ape smartphone intuition

Audi logo17 Jul 2017

By DANIEL DEGASPERI in BARCELONA

AUDI executives have confessed that technology has become too complex in some of the company’s vehicles, with some functions from past models dropped as software programming now becomes more critical than hardware advances.

Speaking at the international reveal of the Audi A8 in Barcelona, Spain, last week, Audi AG head of digitisation Dr John Newman said that one of the company’s current vehicles features “approximately 30 new digital products and services” compared with an equivalent produced in 1998 – and this has created an issue.

“Any discussion of digitisation (today) has to start with a discussion of complexity,” he said at the event.

“If you look at any one of these (30 new digital products and services) you see that they actually get more complex as well. On the one hand, the optimist in me says, ‘This is fantastic, it’s a great enabler for the customer’.

“But on the other hand, the realist in me says, ‘Maybe some of this complexity is leaving customers behind, maybe putting this digital technology into these vehicles isn’t actually putting the customer first’.”

Dr Newman pointed to a JD Power survey that showed around 40 per cent of in-car technology was “used rarely if at all by people that own our vehicles”.

“And so that’s obviously something that we need to keep an eye on (and) something we’d like to improve,” he added.

“(There are) places where we’re using digitalisation to take complexity away from the customer.

“(We are) focusing on things that are, so to speak, ‘below the surface of the water’ … (because) digitalisation can be a major, major tool, a powerful tool to simplifying premium mobility.”

The head of digitisation also explained that Audi AG continues to research what customers want from in-car technology, but, “we need better insights into how customers want functionality and content and services delivered”.

Artificial intelligence, he believed, was driving a mind-change in product and service development from a number of preset ways to use them, towards interactions tailored to a specific owner in conjunction with other technologies.

“You can use digitisation to enable transition from generalised solutions to customised solutions (and) from static or reactive responses to anticipatory responses,” Dr Newman continued.

“If you know what people want, you don’t have to offer general solutions, you can offer very specific, tailored solutions.

“If you know when people want something, you could actually anticipate this and so you don’t have to present all products and services to people all at once, but you actually present it to them just before they want it. And collectively then, these create a distinctive premium mobility experience.”

Audi AG chief digital officer/chief strategy officer Dr Roland Villinger further said: “It’s about moving very fundamentally our traditional hardware-oriented operating model to a much more software- and service-oriented model.”

Premium car-makers have been challenged by smartphone brands such as Apple with its lauded CarPlay mirroring technology, which can automatically draw from an owner’s calendar as they enter the vehicle and set the destination into the navigation system without owner input.

Dr Newman revealed that the new A8’s switch from utilising Audi’s traditional Multi-Media Interface (MMI) system with a rotary dial flanked by shortcut buttons to twin touchscreens, represented a major shift for the brand from using a static interface to an interactive one, just like a smartphone.

“The A8 I think is a fantastic down payment for this vision,” he added.

“The truth is we had a series of buttons in our prior vehicles and I think if you try to focus people on a narrow set of interaction interfaces that actually … it would improve the experience.

“(And) I think ‘touch’ has become part of the language, if you will, of how you use electronic devices. So I think trying to have sort of different languages for people is a little bit confusing, so this (A8) is moving more towards a common language.

“We’re going to focus on the spirit of anticipatory design what do people want to do when they push something, how do they want to interact with something to learn from it.&rdquo.”

Audi has long been renowned for the tactility of its cabin switchgear, but many of these have also been phased out in the company’s latest upper-large sedan flagship, and replaced by touch-sensitive buttons with haptic feedback.

Asked what he believed was the biggest step forward for the A8, Dr Newman replied: “I think for me it’s the simplified layout.”

However, he would not reveal what features Audi customers were not using, and which have been dropped from the A8.

“I don’t think we want to comment publicly on that,” he said.

“But I did intend to say that we’ve put more digital technology into our cars.

“We are looking (at) what’s used and what’s not used, so it will offer a much better experience over time.”

Dr Newman further predicted that Audi would have to make, “A period of transition where we have to make significant investments just to move forward.”“There’s also frankly the hardware side to clean up, to more standardised processes … (but) I think the hope is by splitting hardware and software, we can actually sort-of re-use things, then we can begin to say, ‘let’s now reduce the cost of certain activities’.

“Instead of saying, ‘I’m going to continually rewrite the same code and move it on one particular compute platform’ let’s re-use what we can.”

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