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Lead times lead to frustration

Slow connection: With car-makers requiring long lead times to develop their new models, in-car infotainment systems can be old by the time the car gets to market.

Rapid development of smartphones makes cars look second best, says Connexion chief

31 Oct 2014

RELATIVELY long lead times required by car-makers means in-car systems and screens are always a generation or two behind, leading to dissatisfaction with infotainment systems.

Connexion Media chief executive George Parthimos said the issue has prompted some car-makers to swing back towards dials, at least for some of the in-car functions.

Connexion is an Australian-listed company whose internet radio platform, MiRoamer, will be installed in many General Motors vehicles from next year and is one of only two platforms the American giant will use.

“I think the main issue that a lot of the automakers are facing is that the procurement times from RFQ (request for quote) to actual production are so long that the technology that sits behind the screens – the circuitry and the CPUs (central processing unit) and the memory – can be almost obsolete before the car hits the road,” Mr Parthimos said.

He was commenting on the latest survey finding by the US-based Consumer Reports advocacy and product testing group, which is similar to the Australian Consumers’ Association.

In its latest car reliability survey, Consumer Reports found that infotainment systems were the cause of a lot of aggravation for car owners, who complained about unresponsive screens and a reluctance to pair phones.

“The lead times mean that the screens sometimes don’t function as smoothly as they need to because the hardware is not specced up to the level the screens are specced up to,” Mr Parthimos said.

He said the problem can be seen when you compare the smartphone of today with the smartphone of three years ago.

“The power of the smartphone today, with its CPU, its memory, its operating system, it is generations ahead of what you had three years ago.”

In contrast, three to five years is just one generation in the car industry, he said.

“Unfortunately, they are stuck in this cycle and, because technology is moving so quickly, they get caught behind in this cycle of making sure that the hardware they procure is future-proof.

“That’s one of the key reason you have issues with things like screen latency or screen lag or color contrast issues, purely because of the sourcing cycle of automotive electronics.

“That’s one of the big problems,” he said.

And it is the comparison between smartphones and infotainment systems that is also giving rise to consumer dissatisfaction.

“Why is it becoming an issue? Because of smartphones, because the expectation is that your car will work just like your smartphone does.

“Most of the population has smartphones and tablets. They’re instant, always on. There are different expectations.

“So now infotainment in the car all of a sudden looks poorer than what you have in your hand.

“The argument to the car-makers is you’re backwards, you’re no good, all that stuff.

“But a consumer electronics product can be spun out in three months. A car needs three years, minimum.”

Sometimes the screens have also been specced and ordered three to five years ago, and that means they can suffer the same generational lag as the software and hardware behind them.

“The screens, of course, have also been procured back in 2010 and 2011, so the screens may be using an outdated or an obsolete touch technology.

“It’s a knock-on effect and that’s why a lot of automakers now, particularly in Europe, prefer to go for the rotary dial, because that eliminates that sort of lag that you get with the touchscreen, from the time you touch the screen to the time the screen responds and the page changes.

“When you are using a dial, it happens in milliseconds and you can see the screen is moving. “

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