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 (Photo: iStock)
(Photo: iStock)

Opinion | User experience set to define the future of mobility

Saleability of a car will be decided on how well the car is integrated with the consumer’s digital lifestyle

It’s November 2023 and you are driving back home after a hard day’s work in office on a cold and dreary day. The car’s core operating system (OS), which is synced to your physiological state, picks up changes in body temperature and self-regulates the temperature inside the car to keep you just warm enough for comfort. Traffic is heavy, but you are on cruise mode, with the car driving itself while you relax and look up the news streams flashing on the OLED screen on the windscreen. Just then, an old colleague calls to wish you happy birthday and you have a brief video conversation with him on the OLED display panel, after which you switch on the geyser in the washroom at home through voice control from the car’s core OS so that you can jump into a hot shower once you reach home.

The scenario outlined above is very much in the realms of reality though much of this is in the nascent stages. Traditionally the car was meant to just transport people. But that’s changing drastically, in line with the desire to stay connected at all times. Today, the car is an extension of our personal space and overall digital experience. Yet it is not just about connectivity only. It is increasingly about the user experience. Increasingly, the OS of “intelligent cars", for example, can self-modulate temperatures at a point preferred by us while playing Bethoveen’s Moonlight Sonata. In fact, in-car entertainment is also undergoing a massive shift. Today, one switches on the Bluetooth to play the latest music from one’s favourite music app but tomorrow, audio choices could well be available from multiple avenues. IBM’s Automotive 2025 report indicates that 51% of consumers are interested in personalized experiences in vehicles.

As far as the Indian market is concerned, it’s a sweet spot for global automakers, with India slated to grow into the world’s third largest passenger vehicle market by 2021, and is soon expected to hit the 5 million vehicles a year milestone, signifying the extent of the opportunity in India where technology could disrupt at scale.

However, this is not just about technology for technology’s sake. In America, drivers spend an average of nearly 300 hours on the road each year. According to a 2015 survey conducted by Ford Motor Co., the corresponding number for India is twice that at 600 hours. Given the amount of time people spend on the road, it’s about providing safety, customized personal experiences with seamless connectivity to the world around us and all with light-touch simplicity. In fact, tomorrow’s cars will not sell on features, neither will just getting from point A to point B work. Tomorrow’s mobility is already undergoing a paradigm shift today with future saleability to be increasingly decided on how well the car is integrated with the consumer’s digital lifestyle. And in-car customization will be key to that experience.

That said, the car as a connected device still has a long way to go in the continuum of personalized integration with one’s digital ecosystem. Today, they are, at best, loosely integrated with one or few features, such as the mobile or the audio systems. Research from Parks Associates, a market research firm, suggests that 64% of car owners in US broadband households who own a smartphone want embedded access to connected car features in their next vehicle. With data driving change and the move to Artificial Intelligence (AI), the very notion of connectivity is changing. Soon enough smart cars will be the norm in a smart ecosystem of mobile devices, smart homes and work stations.

An evolving architecture like this is only possible if it is supported by an advanced level of cybersecurity and cloud services because locking down and protecting both driver and data is critical to a connected car. IHS Markit, a London-based global information company, predicts that a quarter of all vehicles sold will be equipped with cybersecurity cloud services by 2023. The other layer that would be built in is that of telematics and advanced 5G to secure next-generation connectivity and infrastructure.

Building this vast and seemingly complex ecosystem of the future can clearly not be the preserve of a single company or group. Given the breadth and scale of the envisaged architecture, it will require seamless collaborative efforts by players from multiple sectors and at multiple levels. According to Business Insider Intelligence, a research service, the connected car hardware and software market will bring in revenue of approximately $152 billion globally in 2020. According to a report by Netscribes, an Indian information services firm, the revenue from India’s connected vehicles market is pegged at a tad over $1 billion now but this is expected to see a CAGR growth at an average annual pace of 8.4% to $1.4 billion by 2022.

The other dimension that is often a blind spot is the regulatory domain. My belief is regulations should actually enable a sandbox approach where innovations are encouraged and allowed to be market-tested without adverse consequences to the innovators because not all innovations work. In most tech-driven industries (mobility will be increasingly driven by technology), innovations would probably lead regulatory initiatives but it is equally important for policymakers to understand where things are headed in the mobility landscape and frame policies that further encourage innovation with a long-term frame.

Dinesh Paliwal is president and chief executive officer of Harman International

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