Car Talk: Thoughts on the Near Future of Mobility

From the Hyperloop to EmbraerX to “New Space,” the 2019 SXSW Interactive Festival promises to be a hotbed of ideas on the future of mobility. In these times it’s tempting to break out a crystal ball and prognosticate as far out as 2030. After all, forecasting is a critical part of design culture and who doesn’t want to look back and call themselves Nostradamus in 11 years? Yet the challenges facing consumers, OEMs, start-ups and mobility systems happening right now can’t be ignored.

Marketing personas are dead.

In the last two years, we’ve seen our savviest clients and partners abandon rosy notions of marketing personas that go something like, “Emily, a mother of 3 with $30K in disposable income who runs errands and makes time to celebrate life.” That’s nice but hardly clarifies what, exactly, Emily needs to accomplish in a day. OEMs need to remember they are now selling services and experiences, not just hunks of metal on wheels. And, services need to help their customer accomplish a task.

The good news is we’re seeing actual user needs bubble up to the top of briefs coming in. Questions like, “What are the user experience gaps in an autonomous car?” and “How do we encourage positive social behavior to keep cars clean, comfortable and safe?” reveal far more interesting answers than shackling ourselves to how cars will help people get where they want to go.

The Original Equipment Manufacturers will need to become Original Experience Manufacturers.

Cars are technology platforms.

Just as the iPhone created a new marketplace for apps, the car will create a new marketplace for the next generation of startup unicorns. In the next three years, Apple’s CarPlay and Android Auto will stabilize and we’ll see OEM hardware running non-OEM software that is robust enough to run native applications. OEMs will cede software to Google, Apple and HERE to focus on what they’re good at: making cars.

Just as every company rushed to make their own app, we’ll see every CEO in the world ask themselves, “How does my brand live in the car?” We’ll see mostly heinous ideas but a select few will create magical (and profitable) experiences.

New tech will be jammed into cars for the hell of it.

Look in the marketplace today and observe Audi adding VR to cars. Observe Byton stretching the dashboard into a wraparound screen in the cockpit. Observe still nascent voice assistants entering every vehicle. We’re in a moment where the marketing value of emerging tech in cars seems to outweigh the human needs that sustain them.

In the next three years, OEMs and cities will tout new VR/AR powered experiences (at great expense) only to realize that in their rush to implement “progress,” they forgot to think about how what they create will be useful again and again over time… not least how to design appropriately for the context of driving or commuting.

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3D will be the #1 priority for Everyone.

No, we are not talking about cheesy Disneyland 3D that jumps out at you. As in-car computing power increases exponentially, the technologies that power cars and the entire car-buying experience will shift toward a unified 3D future.

Take, for example, Unity Technologies’ recent expansion into the automotive sector. This real-time 3D graphics engine has mostly been used for gaming and yet they are making a power play in the automotive sector. Why? Because they understand the importance of their software through the entire car-buying journey. Imagine the same 3D assets used by OEM designers and crash testers will be applied to marketing assets, car customizers, and post-sale upsell all on the same integrated platform. The data potential alone makes us drool.

Voice UI will be everywhere and it will be awkward.

The future of voice UI in everything seems as sure as gravity itself. However, competing incentives for proprietary data and limits in natural language recognition will result in clunky executions of voice assistants in and out of the car.

We’re excited about a voice-augmented future but in the next three years, we see a lot of angry (and possibly distracted) drivers screaming at their dashboards to order them coffee. While human emotions will not change, the way we interact with our cars certainly will.

Are you at SXSW Interactive too? Give us a shout and let’s talk shop.

This post was written by Justin Pike. He is a Business Lead for ustwo’s Automotive, Health, and Immersive practices. He can be reached at justin@ustwo.com.