Tag Archives: car

User Experience (UX) and the Car

Technology has crossed the barrier of the few to the many, where mobile phones now have the ability to take a picture, access the internet, contact someone else anywhere in the world using a variety of methods (text, IM, voice, VOIP); televisions now come Internet ready and video/audio streaming is becoming the norm. Even the terminology has gained acceptance in everyday – MP3, streaming, torrents, IM are all terms that are heard and understood more and more.

Yet many of these technological advances would have had a harder time gaining traction if it wasn’t for User Experience (UX).

Apple – The UX company

Apple Computers is a leading UX company – not just through their software, but through everything they do:

  • Marketing – Apple started in the music and high-end art / marketing groups and slowly propagated through those channels (where as Microsoft went to the Business market). The channels chosen are more exclusive – i.e. you have to have a good product, otherwise you fail quicker – but conversely, you will be held with respect if your products do hold up and the user experience is great.
  • Products – Having owned several Apple products myself, it’s clear that Apple takes great pains to make sure the product won’t fall apart the day after your warranty runs out. From the iPod, iPhone, iPad and Mac ranges, everything exudes quality.
  • Support – AppleCare is a huge success with its’ userbase because they offer straightforward replacement/repair should things go wrong, There’s less of the fine print that goes on with many other warranties, so that when things do go wrong, you don’t have to face getting past a policy or person in order to get things working again.
  • Interconnected – If you own several Apple products, you’ll notice they’re designed to work with each other (or at least that the idea). Got iTunes? (in theory) Your iPod, iPad, AppleTV can all work from one iTunes repository. You can stream content from your Mac computer to your AppleTV…

UX in your Car

As you can see from our Apple example, User Experience permeates everything they do; it’s not an extension of their products and services, it’s part and parcel – there is no separation. In order for the general public to accept a more leading edge technology based product, it must have great user experience and Apple undersands this more than most.

However when we look at the typical car, User Experience has not taken the same strides; That’s not to say there haven’t been advancements and considerations, but they’re more from the extension of the car, rather than being part of the car.

Simple Things Make All The Difference

Take for example heated front windows – if you’ve ever had a car with them and have found yourself in the middle of winter with a frozen windshield, you’ll know how thankful you are that you either don’t have to get out and scrape the window, or sit there waiting for the car to warm up in order to clear the window. I had one a 2002 Ford Focus, yet my current cars (Ford Mustang and Mazda Tribute) do not (and it wasn’t even an option for the Mustang – and I don’t believe it was for the Mazda either). You would think that 10 years on, car companies would have grasped that these types of features would be standard as part of a total User Experience. You can also extend that into other “extras” such as heated wing mirrors, boots/trunks and doors that open and close themselves, climate control, self-adjusting seats/steering wheels, etc.

When you also consider that many people now have their cell / mobile phone as an extension of themselves (it’s always there, always connected, always referred to), that the car should be considerate of this fact and be linked up to the phone – That is to say,  when the driver sits down and plugs their phone into a dock (wouldn’t it be great if docking stations were one size fits all including the connector!?!), or connect via Bluetooth (or similar) it knows their preferences for seating, climate, wing mirrors, the radio presets they favoured, the playlists they liked and connected them so they could make handsfree calls. Not only that, but it would be intelligent enough to use GPS, weather and traffic reports to help the driver understand if there would be any delays etc. and offer alternatives.

“My car already does that”

There are after-market players looking to solve some of these things, but there is no interconnectedness between any two manufacturers. Equally car manufacturers are looking at some / all of these types of additions, but rather than considering the User Experience, they’re addressed as premium extras.

Whilst I believe that there needs to be a premium model line for certain extras, there is no reason why some common user needs aren’t addressed as standard on many cars. And it isn’t just limited to the electronics of cars; simple things like seatbelts that don’t require you to reach back, oil filters and spark plugs that are easily accessible (I had a Buick that had to be hoisted up to access 3 of the spark plugs), folding seats that don’t require you to work out how to use them, storage capability that is well thought out, how the car adapts to you (and feels connected to you) etc should all be part of the Car User Experience. The car manufacturer that acknowledges that is one that will succeed over the majority.

Who Are The Players?

Right now there are a few to watch out for; for total quality vs feature it’s limited to a handful. The one that really stands out for me is Ford Motor Co.; they have worked significantly on the quality of their car and with the introduction of the Ford Sync they lead the way with in-car features. Kia and Hyundai are also making significant advances in their products, but neither has yet to completely adopt the right approach.

That being said, I don’t believe one car manufacturer has yet to embrace UX across all aspects of its’ products. It won’t be long until the public starts to demand a new standard of motor vehicle which integrates with other devices and adapts to the driver/passengers. Time will tell how the motor industry adapts to the new way of thinking; let’s hope given their lack of progress with the internal combustion engine that UX doesn’t face the same trials.

Creating success for your product through hacking (or Product Marketing Conspiracy)

Have you ever thought about Jailbreaking your iPhone? Or homebrewing your PSP or Wii? Did you hack your Android phone to get the latest updates? Whether you have or not, there are many out there that have. But why do they do that? And what is this jailbreak/homebrew you speak of? This article aims to expose what hacking products is all about and possibly why manufacturers are missing the point.

Manufacturers create limitations

When creating products, manufacturers build in mechanisms which prevent or limit capability of their products. This is done for a number of reasons:

  • Safety: Prevent the system from being misused where it will perform outside safety parameters (e.g. “overclocking“)
  • Feature Control – They want to limit the functionality of the product – possibly so they can enable it later or introduce the feature in some other way/update (i.e. controlling how features are deployed)
  • Security – They want to limit access to the system to prevent tampering, bypassing of existing functions or plugging in extra ones.
  • Prevent Piracy – They want to prevent the ability to play pirated games, etc. on the device (typical of games consoles)

Hackers are evil, aren’t they?

Or so the Media would have you believe. Yes there are some rotten apples for sure, but there are also those out there that hack for good intention too. Generally speaking the purpose of hacking is to bypass or overcome one or more of the reasons mentioned above (Safety, Feature Control, Security, Piracy) but there are other reasons too; some want the notoriety that they were the first to break into a system. Others hack because they feel the limitations put on the product are restrictive.

You may be a hacker and not realise it…

Consider the humble MP3 player. A number of factors lead to its’ success such as portability, capacity, size, durability and also the fact it let you hack your CD collection by ripping any of the tracks into the MP3 format and then uploading them to any one of your MP3 devices.

Cars also have had many changes which have meant they too are hackable. Every car I’ve owned since 2001 has had the ability for its’ Electronic Control Unit (ECU) to be modified to either get more performance, economy – or both. On top of that, the burgeoning after-market business will allow you to replace many parts of your standard car, either to make it personalized to you, or to enhance it in some way shape or form.

The war on the home electronics front

Games consoles and phones have long been a target for hacking. When the original Microsoft Xbox came out it was soon hacked and people started to change it in ways it had never been designed for. A popular hack was to convert it to a media center by adding a larger hard drive, installing Xbox Media Center and an optical out – creating a true home theatre PC experience on the cheap (though not HD). The Xbox was (for its’ generation), a market leader and the ability to hack it made it more desirable over Sony’s PS2 product.

With the introduction of the Xbox 360, Microsoft decided to increase the security so that the system couldn’t be hacked so easily. As with most things, an exploit was found which allowed hackers to bypass the (local) security. There are also various exploits for the Sony PS3 which allow the user to take control over what happens to their console.

Going back to our Apple iPhone as well as the iPad and Android phones, people realize that these are very powerful platforms which have been (in their eyes) restricted by the manufacturer in some way and so will actively seek to hack and bypass security as they see it as their right that if they own the product, they should have it their way for their needs. As such exploits and hacks were found which allowed users to do what they wanted with the devices.

So why not just build “hackability” into Products?

Would manufacturers allowed “hacking” affects desirability? Going back to the  Xbox 360, Microsoft created a marketplace for people to re-skin their console with plastic shells that could be purchased. Whilst a good marketing idea, the actual desirability for this kind of hacking is minimal. The same goes for cars – the manufacturer often offers additional accessories with the vehicle which gives some degree of personalization (or a perception of it), yet in reality many folks will buy after-market parts instead.

So there are desirable hacks as well as non-desirable ones?

Absolutely! Some hacks make systems better for the end user – whether it be speed, appearance, extensibility. Simply put, manufacturing a product which has potential exploits to hacks or customize it in some way, shape or form, but that way isn’t documented, isn’t officially supported, perhaps is communicated as “we do not approve these changes” – but is coincidentally allowing the exploit could increase its’ chance to be desired.

Or to put it another way; if you let your product be hackable but you as a manufacturer do not condone it, you may increase your chance of market share because it’s viewed as underground and therefore increases its’ “coolness” factor – and thus your product gets notoriety.

So it’s easy right? Just make everything “hackable”…

What would happen if Apple offered a hacking tool for the iPhone that was charged a premium for? Someone would write a hack that did the same thing for free and they’d be the hero. Perhaps off the back of that Apple would offer them a job to help prevent other / hacks, etc. so everyone wins, but ultimately the  manufacturer hack tool could be viewed as too corporate and so people would try to work they way around it.

Again putting it simply, officially endorsing a hack doesn’t always win votes.

So what does that mean for the consumer?

There are pro’s and cons for the consumer with hacking a product; it can remove manufacturer liability, cause the life of the product to be shortened – or even break the product. On the other hand it can help make the product fulfill its’ potential.

When Microsoft release the Kinect product, folks immediately set to work to understand how they could use the product outside of its’ intended use. At first Microsoft made strong statements about how this was against the terms of use, but rapidly retracted the strength of that statement. People were starting to see how they could use the product for new ways such as 3D real time modeling and that this was pushing the boundaries of use – something more powerful that Microsoft alone may have considered- certainly in the short term.

Similarly the United States military showcased 200 networked Sony PS3’s that they use as one huge parallel processor. Hardly what the system was designed for but absolutely perfect for its’ capability.

In conclusion

If you’re thinking of going out and hacking every product you own that is hackable, don’t. Stop and think about what would happen if you did apply a hack – would you lose your warranty? Could you fix it if it broke? That being said there is good cause for some hacks, so definately research based off your needs and the risks.

For any manufacturers out there reading this… could this be your new marketing ploy?!

[ADDENDUM]

New article how a jailbreak can make your iPhone/iPad more secure

Mazda RX-8; What a great car / dissapointment

Mazda RX-8
Mazda RX-8

I have always admired the Mazda RX-8 for its’ looks and performance; I discounted the car as something I would own when in the UK as the MPG is terrible – between 15-18mpg average and 20mpg at best on the motorway/highway.

Now I’m in the land of (relatively) cheap petrol ($2.79 a gallon at the time of writing … but it went up to $4.44) and the discussion of what car to buy (primarily for me) has come up.

What’s great about the RX-8

  • It looks great
  • it’s got 4 doors for those that want to deal with more than 1-2 people (aka Rach)
  • it’s fast (enough)
  • mostly reliable (esp in the later models)
  • it’s got reasonably good residuals.

What things that aren’t so great

Otherwise known as “reasons I might not even get one”

  • Fuel economy – Yeah, you know you should expect this with any rotary engine
  • If you flood the engine it could mean the car has to go back to the dealer. Serious. Start the car on cold then turn it off after a few seconds. Because the way the Renesis engine works you’ve flooded it and you probably won’t be able to restart it – especially on 2004-2005 models – unless you get it carted back to a dealer or use a DIY method which involves squirting washer fluid in the engine (yes. i am serious).
  • Oil usage – check the levels every other fill up – Rotary engines.

So what next?

I’d be a fool not to test drive one… that’s one of the reasons I bought an Audi TT (yeah – let’s not go there right now).

Consumer Reports best used vehicles

Source : http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/cars/used-cars/cr-recommended/best-used-vehicles-under-20000-406/overview/index.htm

$10,000 – $12,000 $12,000 – $14,000
Acura CL ’03; MDX ’01; RSX ’03
BMW M3 ’98; Z3 ’99
Buick LeSabre ’04; Regal ’04
Chevrolet Silverado 1500 (2WD) ’01
Dodge Neon ’05
Ford Crown Victoria ’05; Escape ’04; Explorer Sport Trac ’03; F-150 ’01; Focus ’07; Ranger (2WD) ’04-05
GMC Sierra 1500 (2WD) ’01-02
Honda Accord ’03; Civic ’04; Civic Hybrid ’03; Civic Si ’03-04; CR-V ’03; Element ’04; S2000 ’00
Hyundai Elantra ’06; Santa Fe (V6) ’04; Sonata (4-cyl.) ’06
Infiniti I35 ’03; QX4 ’99
Kia Optima ’06
Lexus ES ’00; GS (6-cyl.) ’00; LS ’98; RX ’00
Lincoln Town Car ’02
Mazda B-Series (2WD) ’05-06; MX-5 Miata ’02-03; Tribute ’04; 3 ’04
Mercury Grand Marquis ’04-05
Mitsubishi Endeavor ’04; Outlander ’04
Nissan Altima (4-cyl.) ’05; Altima (V6) ’03; Frontier ’03; Xterra ’03
Pontiac Vibe ’05
Scion xA ’06; xB ’04-05
Subaru Baja ’03; Forester ’03; Impreza ’04; Impreza WRX ’02-03; Outback ’01
Toyota 4Runner ’01; Avalon ’02; Camry ’03; Camry Solara ’03; Celica ’03; Corolla ’05; Highlander ’02; Matrix ’04-05; Prius ’03;
RAV4 ’02; Sienna ’03; Tacoma ’01; Tundra ’02; Yaris ’07
Volvo S60 ’02; V70 ’02
Acura MDX ’02; RL ’02; RSX ’04
BMW 5 Series (6-cyl.) ’02; M3 ’99; Z3 ’00
Buick LaCrosse ’05; LeSabre ’05
Chevrolet Silverado 1500 (2WD) ’02; Silverado 1500 (V6, 2WD) ’03; Silverado 2500 (2WD) ’01
Dodge Ram 2500 (turbodiesel, 2WD) ’03-04
Ford Escape ’05; Explorer Sport Trac ’04; F-150 ’02; F-150 (V6) ’03; F-150 (V8, 4WD) ’02; Fusion ’06; Ranger (2WD) ’06
GMC Sierra 1500 (V6, 2WD) ’03; Sierra 2500 (2WD) ’01
Honda Accord ’04-05; Civic ’05; Civic Hybrid ’04; Civic Si ’05; CR-V ’04; Element ’05; Fit ’07; Odyssey ’03; S2000 ’01
Hyundai Elantra ’07; Santa Fe (V6) ’05; Tucson (FWD) ’05
Infiniti QX4 ’00
Kia Sportage ’05-06
Lexus ES ’01; LS ’99; RX ’01
Lincoln Town Car ’04
Mazda MPV ’05; MX-5 Miata ’04; Tribute ’05; 3 ’05-07
Nissan Frontier ’04; Pathfinder ’03; Xterra ’04
Pontiac Vibe ’06-07
Saab 9-2X ’05
Scion tC ’05; xB ’06
Subaru Forester ’04; Impreza ’05-06; Impreza WRX ’04; Legacy ’04; Outback ’02
Toyota 4Runner ’02; Avalon ’03; Camry ’04; Camry Solara ’04; Corolla ’06-07; Highlander ’03; Land Cruiser ’98; Matrix ’06; RAV4
’03; Sequoia ’01; Tacoma ’02-03; Tundra ’03
Volvo V70 ’03
$14,000 – $16,000 $16,000 – $18,000
Acura RSX ’05
BMW 5 Series (6-cyl.) ’03; Z3 ’01
Buick LaCrosse ’06
Chevrolet Silverado 2500 (2WD) ’02
Chrysler Crossfire ’04
Ford F-150 (2WD) ’04; Fusion ’07
GMC Sierra 2500 (2WD) ’02
Honda Accord ’06; Civic ’06-07; Civic Hybrid ’05; Odyssey ’04; Pilot ’03; S2000 ’02
Hyundai Sonata (4-cyl.) ’07; Tucson ’06; Tucson (FWD) ’07
Infiniti G35 Sedan (RWD) ’03; I35 ’04; Q45 ’02; QX4 ’01
Jeep Compass ’07
Lexus GS ’01; LS ’00; RX ’02
Mazda MPV ’06; MX-5 Miata ’05
Mercury Grand Marquis ’07; Mariner ’05; Milan ’06; Montego (AWD) ’07
Mitsubishi Endeavor ’05
Nissan Altima (V6) ’05; Frontier (V6) ’05
Scion tC ’06
Subaru Forester ’05; Impreza ’07; Legacy ’05; Outback ’03
Toyota 4Runner ’03; Avalon ’04; Camry ’05; Camry (4-cyl.) ’06; Camry Solara ’05; Highlander ’04; Land Cruiser ’99-00; Matrix ’07;
Prius ’04; RAV4 ’04; Sequoia ’02; Tacoma ’04-05; Tundra ’04
Volvo S60 (FWD) ’04; XC70 ’03
Acura MDX ’03; TSX ’04
BMW 3 Series Coupe & Conv. (RWD) ’02
Chevrolet Silverado 1500 (V6, 2WD) ’06
Dodge Ram 2500 (turbodiesel, 2WD) ’05
Ford Crown Victoria ’07; Escape Hybrid ’05; F-150 (2WD) ’05
Honda Accord ’07; Civic Hybrid ’06; Civic Si ’06; CR-V ’05; Element ’06-07; S2000 ’03
Infiniti G35 Sedan (RWD) ’04
Lexus ES ’02; IS ’01; LS ’01; LX ’99; RX ’03
Lincoln Town Car ’05
Mazda MX-5 Miata ’06-07
Mercedes-Benz C-Class (4-cyl.) ’04
Mercury Milan ’07
Mitsubishi Endeavor ’06
Nissan Altima (4-cyl.) ’07; Frontier (V6) ’06; Maxima ’05; Xterra ’06
Subaru Forester ’06; Impreza WRX ’05-06; Legacy ’06; Outback ’04
Toyota 4Runner ’04; Highlander ’05; Land Cruiser ’01; Prius ’05; RAV4 ’05; Sienna ’04; Tacoma ’06; Tundra ’05
Volvo S80 (5-cyl.) ’04; V70 ’04
$18,000 – $20,000  
Acura TSX ’05
BMW 3 Series Coupe & Conv. (RWD) ’03; 325i Sedan (AWD) ’04; 325i Sedan (RWD) 05; 330i Sedan (AWD) ’03; Z3 ’02
Chevrolet Corvette ’99-00; Silverado 2500 (2WD) ’04
Dodge Charger (V6) ’06
Ford Explorer Sport Trac (V6) ’07; F-150 (2WD) ’06; Five Hundred (AWD) ’07; Freestyle ’07
GMC Sierra 1500 (V6, 2WD) ’06; Sierra 2500 (2WD) ’04
Honda Accord Hybrid ’05; Civic Hybrid ’07; Civic Si ’07; CR-V ’06; Pilot ’04; S2000 ’04
Infiniti M ’03; QX4 ’02
Lexus ES ’03; GS ’02; IS ’02; LX ’00
Mini Cooper Hatchback ’06
Mitsubishi Outlander ’07
Nissan Altima (V6) ’06; Frontier (V6) ’07; Maxima ’06; Xterra ’07
Porsche Boxster ’01
Subaru Baja ’06; Forester ’07; Legacy ’07; Outback ’05
Toyota Avalon ’05; Camry (4-cyl.) ’07; Camry Solara ’06; Prius ’06; RAV4 ’06; Sienna ’05; Tacoma ’07
Volvo S60 ’05; S80 (5-cyl.) ’05 XC70 ’04
 

Finding the perfect (regular) American Car – Part 2 – Luxury

There’s absolutely no reason why you can’t have a car that fulfills your need to service as a family car AND is fun to drive. Manufacturers such as BMW, Audi, Mercedes and (for those who think this contentious) Infiniti and Accura get that.

BMW 3 Series

bmw-3-series-2005.jpgThis cars reputation in the UK is one of a salesman’s car – everyone has one it seems; In doing so, the 3 series has lost its’ image of a prestige marque that one aspired to.

The reputation in the US isn’t quite at the same level, and is considered still a car worthy of its’ badge; BMWs are renowned for their driving experience (very important to me), quality, performance, longevity – and price. A second hand BMW in good condition will be a lot more than you would expect to pay for many other marques of similar, if not better condition.

And there’s a reason for that; It’s all true.

I have fought the BMW desire for a long time – but I have to admit, there are certain 3-series models I would consider… and I’m not just talking the M3; anything other than the 316, 318 … the 320… not sure… Certainly from reading up it seems models from 2005 and on gain from some extra room as well as some other pre-2005 quirks:

back seat passengers were cramped, while the boot was small. The steering was heavy at slow speeds, and the ride could be harsh if the surface wasn’t perfect. The interior ventilation system wasn’t the best; when you needed heavy-duty action to clear the windscreen you tended to fry your face.” (source)

The rear space does seem to be limited, but I have seen my bro-in-law with child seats in his 2003 Beemer, so it can’t be that bad… That being said, I’ve witnessed BMW owners trying to drive through snow and ice in this lovely Chicago winter and they do struggle! An M3 owner in my street ended up digging his car out twice because the car couldn’t handle what other front wheelers could.

Incidentally, I’ve seen some spy shots of the next-gen BMW – bmw_3_v.jpg and bmw_3_h.jpg – Looks gorgeous!

BMW goes on the “could be” list.

Audi A4

Audi A4Many say that this is a great car – except Audi reliability issues in the past (see my Audi TT post), although the A4 has a better reputation that the TT. Forbes seems to rate the A4 extremely highly – see this link – and having driven in an A4 I was very pleased with the ride and feel.

The exterior look isn’t as compelling as the competition, but it has a lot going for it from a driver’s perspective – handling is apparently excellent. There is a front wheel and four wheel drive version too – the four wheel is compelling in the Chicago winter. It also can suffer from rear passenger space like the BMW.

BMW goes on the “could be” list.

Mercedes

I’m not a Mercedes fan, unless it’s the McLaren SLK! The top of the range CLS class looks great but the price matches it, so it’s out.

Infiniti / Accura

Aside from the Infinit G35 coupe and the FX SUV, I’m not really enamoured; Accura TL is a great car but the price doesn’t justify it’s glorified Honda role for my purposes.