TodayApril 16, 2022

Ford General Motors Google Microsoft Apple who’s the Genius?

Ford, General Motors, Google, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon

Lou Ann Hammond, the CEO,, talked to John Batchelor, host of the John Batchelor radio show about infotainment systems.

Most people don’t think about the operating system they use in a car. When people open their laptop, they know they are working on a MAC or Microsoft operating system. When they click on a browser to access the internet, they can tell you it’s Safari, Firefox, Chrome, or Explorer. Very few people can tell you what the backend operating system is that is being used in a car infotainment system.

In 2005 I was on Autoline Detroit talking about Ford’s SYNC, what we now refer to as an infotainment system in the Ford car. I was not talking with a Ford person; I was talking with a Microsoft person.

At the 2012 Los Angeles auto show General Motors showed off their newest edition of infotainment, an Apple voice activation product called SIRI. Sarah LeBlanc, the global program manager for General Motor’s MyLink, is still enthusiastic about Apple, “when Apple made the announcement last summer to work with OEMs, General Motors jumped at the chance. We have worked very closely with the Apple team to integrate voice recognition into our vehicle. We even gave them a car so that they could test the system in our car.”

My brother-in-law, Kevin, is 60 years old, and he will only buy a car with the latest technology. Kevin doesn’t want to buy a new car, he buys a car for technology, so his theory is that he will purchase a car with the best technology he can get in the newest car he can buy.

Some of the consideration is people who are tech-savvy, some are wealth. Anecdotally, the only group that doesn’t consider infotainment are the people that can barely afford a car. Liz is a 24-year-old waitress and drives a 2000 Toyota Corolla that is about to fall apart. She has a simple phone. She would not consider infotainment or brand loyalty in the purchase of a vehicle. Price is Liz’s first consideration, but she is very excited by the technology that is available, “I hear this is the wave of the future, that your car can be connected to your home, that you can pull information from the cloud.”

People with older cars can utilize some of the early functions of infotainment. Thirty-two-year-old Chris has a Hyundai Sonata and an early version of the iPhone. Chris plugs his phone into the car via a “cord”. Thirty-five-year-old James used to work in the software department of HP before the economic downfall. James has a Dodge Durango and a Galaxy II. He accesses his smartphone through the cigarette lighter.

Neither of these guys says that infotainment is the reason they would buy a car, but both of them use their infotainment system whenever they’re in their car. The difference between Kevin, James, and Chris is that James and Chris will use their smartphone to access the information they need, thereby keeping their eyes off the road longer. Kevin accesses his technology through his steering wheel and can see it on his nav screen.

Just like in a computer, people don’t care what the operating system is as long it works and gives the best functionality it can for the price. It only makes sense that the top smartphone providers would work with auto companies; the backend is already created, the front end already has name recognition.

According to ComScore, a leader in measuring the digital world, Google, the owner of the Android phone, has increased their marketshare 1.4% from July 2012 to Oct 2012, from 52.2% to 53.6%. Apple, the owner of the iPhone, has grown their marketshare .9% over the same period, from 33.4% to 34.3%. RIMM, the owner of Blackberry, has decreased their marketshare by 1.7% from 9.5% to 7.8%, and Microsoft, the owner of Nokia, decreased their marketshare by .4% from 3.6% to 3.2%.

Consumer Reports has downgraded Ford for their MyFord Touch system, saying it is too cumbersome. Ford uses Microsoft for some of their backend systems, as does Kia with their UVO infotainment system. Tom Mutchler, a senior engineer for Consumer Reports, said that “problems with MyFord Touch’s ease-of-use have reduced the test scores in cars equipped with the system. Our reliability data also show that MyFord Touch is buggy and trouble-prone.”

“UVO to MyFord Touch given that all that UVO and MyFord Touch share is that Microsoft did the backend work. It’s not a natural comparison for ease-of-use because MyFord Touch is a much more comprehensive system. A better comparison of the entire system is to compare Chrysler’s latest Uconnect touch screen system to MyFord Touch.”

In an email sent to me it is apparent that Consumer Report’s James McQueen doesn’t like the Cadillac CUE either, “the 2013 SRX just received the CUE dashboard system as standard equipment. Most ATS sedans will also have the system. It replaces buttons and knobs with a touch screen and flush, touch-sensitive switches. Like our other staff members, I have smartphones and tablets. Plus, I have survived engineering school classes on computer programming and finite element analysis, going on to earn a graduate degree in ergonomics, so technology, in and of itself, isn’t the problem. To paraphrase a former president’s campaign advisor, “It’s the implementation, stupid.”

McQueen continues, “During my drive to work in the SRX, I wanted to turn on the seat heater. This should be a simple tap of a flush button. But it took two or three pokes to get it to respond. Same for adjusting the temperature with the flush buttons. They only do what you expect about half the time. I remembered that my helpful salesperson told me to use the fleshy part of my finger instead of the fingertip. Funny, but I never needed training on using normal conventional buttons” but they’re uncool. (So are knobs. Oh, so very 2009.)”

“Then I was scrolling through a list of songs, trying to select one from a playlist on my iPhone. While the system works like the phone or tablet, it lacks the familiar sensitivity, an issue compounded by me reaching across the cabin to make the adjustment while driving, complete with jiggling road motions. Sometimes the scroll didn’t move, sometimes I hit too hard and picked the wrong song. Once you do that, you’re back to the song title screen, so you need to reenter the browse menu.”

“All during this time (on a two-lane wet road with on-coming traffic going 50 mph), the lane departure seat buzzer was massaging my right cheek as I kept driving over the right shoulder marker. Distracting much?”

“I could have (and should have) used the voice commands. They’re really good” I don’t need to remember if “fun” is the band or the song title. CUE just finds it without the hierarchy (and all of the barked disclaimers) of Sync. Or I could have used the fiddly steering wheel toggle to inch through songs.”

“But these other workarounds are no excuse for making the other stuff so complicated. It’s like when you make dinner for guests. If you torch the steak but make the perfect side dish, you still really shouldn’t serve the steak. Too often it seems like CUE just goes for the sizzle.”

Both BMW and Audi integrates some backend software from Google so that their owners can use Google maps and send directions to their car. You can also have the voice-activated system sent to Google search download for points of interest, even while driving.

According to BMW, the head unit’s run software based on a Linux operating system. The latest version of iDrive uses display technology from NVIDIA.

BMW has been working with Apple since the first iPod integration in 2004, and it has both Google search and Google send-to-car technology available.

Audi’s system is a bit more unique because they have a full-time Wi-Fi connection that allows unlimited destination search and takes voice search off-board straight to Google Voice. Both BMW and Audi say they will also have Apple’s SIRI voice activation soon.

A Tesla spokesperson said that the Tesla Model S uses Google to power the maps on its 17” touchscreen, however, the software is built in-house and Tesla does not use any outside OS. The Tesla Navigation System is Garmin. Model S offers satellite radio and internet apps from TuneIn and Slacker.

The Genius is the consumer that gets what they want in a car without having to care which company is providing it. The smart company will be the company that can give the consumer what they want with the most convenience, and intuitiveness, to the consumer, while allowing the consumer to keep their eyes on the road. Implementation is the key.

Lou Ann Hammond

Lou Ann Hammond is the CEO of Carlist and Driving the Nation. She is the co-host of Real Wheels Washington Post carchat every Friday morning and is the Automotive, energy correspondent for The John Batchelor Show and a Contributor to Automotive Electronics magazine headquartered in Korea. Hammond is a founding member of the Women's World Car of the Year #WWCOTY, and board member of the Women in Automotive.