Automotive > Infotainment & Telematics Blog

Nio's Nomi Makes Innovation Statement

by Roger Lanctot | Apr 01, 2019

When NextEV U.S. CEO Padmasree Warrior spoke at AutomobilityLA more than two years ago she was one of only two female CEOs of car companies in the world. NextEV was, and still is, seen as the main Chinese challenger to Tesla Motors. Her message to the AutomobilityLA audience: “It’s not about driving. It’s about being.”

Since delivering that keynote address, NextEV has become Nio and has gone public. Warrior has departed Nio, leaving GM’s Mary Barra as the sole female auto company CEO in the world. And Nio has introduced the world to Nomi, a ground-breaking digital assistant. - China's Drive to Dominate the Electric Car Industry -

In her talk from 2016, Warrior described the emerging commoditization of automotive infotainment - promoted by Apple and Google - as a failure. She said consumers were looking for a safe, green companion that seamlessly anticipates their driving needs. Nomi is the manifestation of that goal.

Nio’s Nomi had its U.S. debut in an episode of CBS’s “60 Minutes” last month. The dashboard-mounted device is unlike anything seen anywhere else in the global automotive industry either built into a new car or delivered in the aftermarket.

Nomi is a classic out-of-the-blue innovation from China – like Roewe’s Android-based Inkanet of nearly a decade ago – reflecting complete out-of-the-box thinking and powerful creativity. Watching the device swivel and interact with drivers and passengers is enough to rattle traditional automotive designers worried about automotive-grade reliability or driver distraction.

It is true, that innovation has its costs and risks. Roewe’s Inkanet struggled with application overload (clever apps like Walkie Talkie were ultimately dropped), battery management issues, and lack of Google support for its forked version of Android.

Nomi could become a major turnoff to some drivers or could fail to stand up mechanically to the rigors of on-dash integration and daily use. Its voice recognition could fail to support local dialects, disappointing other users. Nio executives obviously decided the risk was worth the reward.

The real significance of Nomi is its ability to stimulate delight. Nomi is simultaneously stunning and staid. It’s unexpected capabilities seem instantly obvious and intuitive once demonstrated – and the minimalist execution is elegant and refined.

Nomi charms with its cleverness and its simple design belies any impression of cheapness. Nomi understands and communicates just enough to be helpful in a non-distracting manner.

Nomi’s digital assistant functionality is readily comprehended in a post-Alexa world. The device can conjure up weather, music, and navigation information on demand but can also adjust cabin temperature – a leap ahead of competing systems from Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Nuance, and Samsung still being demonstrated at trade shows.

Nomi is not alone as similar, though not identical, solutions are offered in vehicles from FAW, GAC and Volvo. But Nomi is a standout in a crowded automotive market. It also demonstrates a very different kind of automotive leadership emanating from China where intense competition is a unique stimulus of invention.

Outside China infotainment innovation has nearly ground to a halt as caution has taken charge. Leading auto makers outside China have retreated to safer choices in pursuit of global platforms, economies of scale and incrementalism.

And it’s not just innovation for its own sake in China. Nomi is part of Nio’s overall marketing message. 

Nomi is able to offer not only interaction with users but also what can only be described as emotional engagement thanks to on-screen winks, smiles, and thumbs up symbols. The in-cabin selfie function (see video) is mere icing on an already impressive cake.

The device is sufficiently clever as to draw attention up to the dashboard and away from the in-dash infotainment system. In this way, Nomi can be seen as a distraction mitigation device.

This distraction mitigation achievement is in contrast to systems such as General Motors’ Marketplace which demand driver engagement with contextually relevant offers and information. Nomi is no attention hog.

Nomi’s simple display and voice-based interaction does reflect the integration of driver information display-type solutions with voice recognition enhanced by a layer of interactive intelligence. Most car makers have some level of voice-based interaction and GM has had in-dash turn-by-turn navigation via OnStar for more than a dozen years.

Car makers have a long history of attempting to interact with drivers and get their attention, without intruding or annoying. Daimler has its instrument cluster coffee icon to suggest drivers get some rest and every dashboard is full of warning lights and indicators that are routinely ignored by drivers.

Nomi offers the sort of in-vehicle assistance one might only expect from a live call center agent via the phone. But Nomi is built into the car and truly behaves like a digital driving assistant.

It’s not clear that Nio can or will displace Tesla Motors as an EV market leader in China or the world. But its Nomi digital assistant is enough to suggest that there is new thinking afoot at Nio focused on changing the nature of the relationship between the driver and the car. At a time when consumers are re-evaluating their relationship with their owned vehicles, Nomi’s arrival is intended to restore consumer interest and delight in car ownership. 

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