OEMs struggle to maintain control of in-car experience  

The fight for driver attention is on as third-party apps, automotive brands, and mobility service providers strive for ownership of vehicle HMI.


Below is the first installment of an article series in which we will explore in-car experiences and HMI opportunities. Succeeding articles will include perspectives from both inside and outside the automotive industry and feature expert insight from iconmobile’s sister agency, icon incar – one of the world’s leading automotive experience design firms that has partnered with OEMs to make the most of HMI and in-car experiences for over 10 years.



A vehicle’s human machine interface (HMI) – the digital dashboard that connects a person to the car – has traditionally served the simple function of displaying and controlling the car’s settings and information. However, as connectivity and smart technologies have increased in sophistication and relevance, vehicle HMIs have become the primary touchpoint for growing and deepening the relationship between automotive brands and their customers.


Since the inception of private vehicles, automotive manufacturers (OEMs) and leading operating systems (OS) have owned this interaction, but a sluggish response to consumer demands, new ownership models, and digital technologies have opened the door for competitors to own the in-car experience.


Today – OEMs vs. 3rd-Party Apps 


Over the last decade, smartphones have become an integral component of daily life. This development has brought ushered in a flood of applications designed to manage our finances, entertain us and, of course, help us move.


Suddenly, a vehicle HMI that once stood alone must now compete for attention with apps like Google Maps, Waze, Spotify, and iTunes. And these apps are winning the battle for consumers’ attention. Their modern, intuitive design, familiar UI, and overall superior experience have led customers to demand third-party app integration into the vehicle experience.


This creates a real challenge for OEM’s, not just because of the additional development effort but because the HMI is a core element of the overall brand experience. A vehicle’s HMI is one of the only ways manufactures can continuously and naturally communicate with their customers and build brand loyalty.


Fortunately for OEM’s, the utilitarian value of apps like Google Maps struggles to compete with the inherent emotionality of speed and acceleration.


Tomorrow – OEM’s vs. 3rd-Party Operators 


Early advancements in digital technology have allowed 3rd-party apps to dominate vehicle HMI’s but recent progress has introduced a new competitor vying for HMI control: 3rd-party mobility operators.


What was a niche phenomenon a few years ago, ride-share or -hail companies like Car2Go or Uber have become household names by transforming mobility ownership. Much like the OEM’s, mobility services want to own the in-vehicle experience to increase consumers’ use of, desire for, and reliance on their service.


Today, OEM’s maintain the advantage since ride-sharing or -hailing companies still rely on OEM models but this will not be the case for long. We can see this battle for users manifest itself at a much broader scale. Custom vehicles, designed specifically for ride-share services, like those launched by China’s Didi Chuxing, could result in ultimate control of the entire mobility experience, from door to door and everywhere between.


The Future – The Battle Royale 


While its arrival is hotly debated, the promise and potential of true autonomous driving has received global attention. Current autonomous driving technology leaves a lot to be desired, but we have already observed its initial influence on how drivers interact with vehicle HMIs and what they expect from them.


Tesla, considered the golden standard, features an HMI experience primarily focused on entertainment and providing piece of mind. This trend is likely to continue as autonomous vehicles (AVs) reduce driver involvement, allowing their attention to be diverted elsewhere.


This might seem like good news to OEM’s, who are focused on digitalizing their vehicle’s HMI. However, AVs will also reduce the need to sit behind the wheel, directly impacting HMI interaction.


In this near future, the battle to own the HMI and in-car experience will not only include OEM’s, third-party apps and mobility service providers, but also other interfaces such as phones, smart glasses or even VR headsets.


To discuss what your company can do to meet customer needs and obtain control of the future of mobility experiences, contact iconmobile’s VP of Client Success, Yaniv Snir at yaniv.snir@iconmobile.com.