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J.D. Power Navigation Critique Cries Out for Connected Solution

by Roger Lanctot | Nov 24, 2011

J.D. Power and Associates has released its latest customer satisfaction report on navigation. Car makers and their suppliers will be poring over the results to understand what they did right, where they went wrong and how they can do better. What is missing is a clear prescription for remedying the existing shortcomings, and that remedy may reside in the “cloud.”

As is the case with many of J.D. Power’s studies, the release of this latest report is greeted with widespread apprehension in the industry. The top performers will tout their top ratings for at least the next 12 months. For OEMs and their Tier One partners the likelihood is that the current systems in development bear little resemblance to the systems currently on the road. But the power of the J.D. Power study lies in the glimpse it provides into current consumer thinking regarding embedded navigation.

The Garmin navigation system in the Dodge Charger took the top spot for owner satisfaction this year, recognized for ease of use, display and speed of system, according to the results. The Hyundai-Mobis navigation system supplied to the Hyundai Genesis Coupe took runner-up and the Garmin in the Chrysler 300 ranked third.

These organizations deserve congratulation given the fact that navigation is the single area of the car producing the highest levels of consumer complaints. J.D. Power’s Initial Quality Study for 2010 showed significant improvements in nearly every vehicle system except two: Multimedia (reported problems up 12%) and Navigation (reported problems up 21%).

Navigation is complex with a lot of moving parts as well as plenty of opportunity for differentiation among car makers and their system suppliers. All players are trying to solve the same problem but no two take identical paths. There is ample opportunity for making bad choices, especially when multi-modal human machine interfaces are added to the mix.

For these reasons, car makers and their suppliers exert themselves mightily trying to find the best navigation solutions, the best interfaces and the best suppliers to deliver a navigation experience that turns the complex into the intuitive and the baffling into the obvious. And these companies do this every 2-3 years, re-inventing their solutions even as the challenge itself remains the same.

The J.D. Power study is helpful to this process in identifying the areas that deserve the highest priority, according to the consumer respondents. J.D. Power’s press release states that the seven most-frequently reported issues, which account for more than 50% of problems reported overall are (in order from most to fewest problems):

Address/street/city not found
Route provided was not direct
Difficulty using voice recognition controls
Map doesn’t show enough street names
Couldn’t find desired menu/screen
Map or point of interest search was missing points of interest
Inability to view screen due to glare

I like these findings because they highlight the fact that the little things, like finding the correct point of interest or address, remains the single most troublesome area in factory-fit navigation systems. Car makers continue to try to solve this problem with DVDs and HDDs packed with outdated POI information.

The only way to solve this problem effectively and relatively inexpensively is by enabling the car to connect with off-board resources, ie. the cloud. The only way to get up-to-date POI information is by accessing databases that are being maintained and curated. Even call centers are only as useful as the databases to which they have access.

There are few things more frustrating than using an expensive navigation system in an expensive car that is hobbled by the implementation of a static on-board database for POI information.  Even worse is a connected system that provides access to a call center where the operator cannot find the correct POI.

It is tempting to suggest that Google is the answer, but by now many users have had the personal experience of using Google’s POIs only to discover that a crowd-sourced input has introduced invalid information into the database. Perhaps equally annoying are sponsored results to a POI inquiry, further misleading the user. A more curated and validated experience, such as that offered by Infogroup and some competing organizations can effectively solve this problem.

Assuming the user has obtained the current POI – which is in fact made easier these days by widespread use of “send to car” functionality – entering the information in the car is a variable experience car to car. One-shot destination entry is the dream, but the reality falls well short. Entering destinations manually is also a challenge with inputs ranging from the i-Drive’s circular alphabetic selection to QWERTY and ABC-formatted keyboards – some of which are accessible while driving and some not.

With the introduction of Apple’s Siri voice recognition and the recent arrival in the market of VoiceBox’s natural language recognition on Toyota and Hyundai systems and enhancements to TeleNav’s hybrid navigation solution, cloud-based one-shot destination will eventually become a reality. Until then, disconnected on-board systems will continue to disappoint.

Routing is a particularly nettlesome issue as some systems provide multiple options with descriptions (fastest, shortest, most ecological, etc.) while others provide a single option. Some systems allow for editing, others not. What is often missing is an explanation of the route given, such as a detailed description of current or anticipated traffic conditions. Again, route selection is an area where an off-board connection will make a huge difference, but is usually not available.

It is worth noting that traffic is not mentioned in J.D. Power's press release meaning traffic data was either considered a lower priority or did not attract a significant volume of complaints.  Good traffic information is critical to useful routing, but it is possible that consumers are failing to make this connection between the two functions in their evaluation of these systems.

Now that Siri has effectively raised the bar and reset the standard for natural language voice recognition, consumer expectations for on-board voice recognizers used with navigation systems will never be met. Just as Apple’s iPod foretold the demise of the CD drive and the iPad has let the air out of the factory-fit rearseat entertainment business, Siri is putting pressure on disconnected voice recognition experiences in cars.

Implications

Garmin’s recognition as the top navigation system with the fewest reported problems from consumers is a clear vote for simplicity and the familiar.  Long-term, though, a vote for Garmin is a vote for mobile-device-based form factors and interfaces which ultimately points in the direction of Apple and Android.  Whatever OEMs and Tier Ones bring to the navigation proposition must be rendered simply and intuitively - but the most familiar interfaces to consumers are increasingly found on mobile devices.

As far as industry progress is concerned, the same complaints remain. After more than 10 years of creating automotive navigation systems the industry still has not solved the problem of obtaining accurate POI information and entering that information simply and easily in the system.

Navigation remains the most troublesome area in the cockpit. This means that the opportunity still exists to solve this problem and exhibit industry leadership. There is no shortage of candidates to lead this effort, though TeleNav has a head start with its hybrid implementation and with new enhancements and advances in the works.

Toyota, GM, BMW and others are all working on their own hybrid solutions integrating smartphones. Next year’s J.D. Power results will reflect the introduction of these connected solutions and, hopefully, will show consumers having more satisfactory navigation experiences.  But connectivity will be the key to customer satisfaction in 2012.

Additional insights:

http://bit.ly/nNTWk2 - Automotive and Portable Navigation Outlook 2010-2018 - Canali - Automotive Multimedia & Communication
http://bit.ly/rufgDu - China: Will New Navi-Engine Vendors Make A Difference in Aftermarket In-Dash Navigation Market? - Xu - Automotive Multimedia & Communications

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