Smartphone vs Embedded Navigation - Why not best of both?

We were asked why the automotive world always seems to be playing catch up in user experience, and why we have to choose between embedded and smartphone navigation. Ultimately, why can’t we have the best of both worlds?

[Editor’s note]: This post is based on questions asked by a member of our LinkedIn audience in response to our article published in Automotive News. In that article we covered how embedded navigation is still relevant in a smartphone dominated world.  

We were asked why the automotive world always seems to be playing catch up in user experience, and why we have to choose between embedded and smartphone navigation. Ultimately, why can’t we have the best of both worlds? Follow the conversation here. 

For ease, we’ve broken the question down into component parts, with answers from our CTO, Martin Pfeifle.  

Why do many drivers prefer smartphones? 

Finding a way to bring the smartphone experience into the car has always been difficult, in part due to hardware and regulatory challenges (a smartphone doesn’t need to meet stringent temperature function checks or need to run seamlessly for a minimum of 10 years), but also due to the challenges the industry supply chain represents. Cockpit development has traditionally been fragmented, with different hardware (and software) coming from numerous different suppliers. This might change as EVs and Advanced Driver Assistance Systems drive the adoption of the “software defined vehicle”, and HW and SW architectures homogenize.  

Why don’t maps update over-the-air? (OTA) 

It depends on the OEM, and what they’re willing to pay for. There’s a constant debate in the industry over with whom the cost of OTA download resides. With the OEM? With the Driver? It’s still unanswered, but in the EU, legislation is pushing safety features that require an increased level of default connectivity that the OEM must support. Whether they swallow that cost or pass it onto the customer remains to be seen.  

Why are maps always outdated?  

By nature, maps are outdated the moment they are created, as it takes a certain amount of time until a real-world change is reflected in the data repositories of map providers. Assuming the real-world change is reflected in the data, NNG makes sure that the change is delivered quickly to the driver.  

We have developed a mobility platform, featuring a new architecture, iGO.Live, that allows for a variety of connectivity use cases, offline, online, hybrid, and this enables map updates to be always-on, streamed on demand, or at any other cadence determined by the OEM. But again, it depends on connectivity, and OEM configuration, as to how fresh the map truly is. It is now possible to provide map streaming with offline back up, so that you can get real-time updates. We offer that. We can also provide phone-based map updates, that let you avoid the “sneaker network” of PC>USB>RUN TO CAR>UPLOAD USB FILE. Now you can just plug in/connect your phone and download updates via a brandable app, and install in seconds. This is great for cars with limited or no connectivity.  

Why do map updates cost so much? 

The short answer is that someone needs to pay for the physical mapping, data aggregation, compilation, and delivery of varied map layers. Each layer providing a different level of detail and functionality for a variety of use cases.  

The long answer is that there’s an industry trend toward pushing down the cost of navigation software. With smartphones offering low- or no-cost user-centric navigation, most OEMs don’t see a lot of value in equivalent solutions. What they do find valuable are differentiating navigation features such as safety functionality and driver-assisting technologies that other solutions cannot provide. This is why you see that many of the incumbents, us included, have moved toward advanced guidance solutions that serve use cases beyond pure driver navigation.  

As I discussed in the Automotive News article, the underlying embedded technology, and our expertise in this area, lends itself well to the development of solutions for advanced driver assistance systems such as intelligent speed assistance. What we’re seeing is navigation solutions evolving into platforms that can deliver content and services throughout the vehicle, while providing the user-level navigation functionality at low- to no-cost.  

We’re beginning to see this trend apply to maps too. The industry is paying close attention to the ongoing development of the OpenStreetMap (OSM) format for automotive use cases. This may provide a low-cost alternative to basic map layers, with specific layers for complex functions sold at a premium. It’s still too early to predict how this will evolve. OSM maps themselves offer too little coverage to be applicable to the stringent regulatory requirements for automotive use cases globally, but there are definitely strides being made in this area. Something to keep an eye on!

Dr Martin Pfeifle – Chief Technology Officer

Why is there a lack of functionality and consistent UX across brands? 

It primarily depends on the hardware. Vehicle production is all about hitting baseline costs. Most OEMs are looking for the lowest cost hardware they can use to fulfil their needs. Building a car is a significant bit of engineering, and it’s not cheap. And the market is small compared to smartphones. In 2021, nearly 2 billion smartphones were sold, contrast that to around 78 million cars and you see my point. Economies of scale matter, but we will definitely see improvement here as the number of connected features in vehicles increases. Software will do the heavy lifting in overcoming these challenges.  

Why is there such a disconnect between cars and our personal digital ecosystems?  

Smart device link solutions like Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are fixes that the industry has adopted, but with a lack-luster level of enthusiasm. Everyone needs to have them, but the level of integration is generally poor. I think this is mostly due to OEM resistance to, and in some cases, fear of, relinquishing control of the in-vehicle environment. OEMs have been slow to decide on how best to capitalize on the new aftersales revenue opportunities offered by in-vehicle connectivity, sometimes with approaches that seem (from the outside at least) to go against common sense. Marry this with the aggressive inroads into this space by Google, and you’ve got this perfect storm for analysis paralysis that has led to where we are today.  

I think we are coming to a point now where we’ll see a convergence. The standardization efforts in map formats and integration specifications are far enough along that the industry will soon be able to bring to market smartphone comparable navigation solutions, that are automotive grade, and can meet safety/regulatory requirements. And in fact, we’re already doing this with our latest navigation platform which uses NDS (navigation data standard) format maps. The next generation of this standard, which we’re deeply involved in specifying, will allow for greater interoperability across platforms, and allow for more hardware agnostic software solutions. 

Why can’t we have the best of both worlds? 

So to answer your overall question, I think that ultimately, we’re very close to the best of both worlds that you (and I) want. 

The aim now, from an innovation standpoint, is to exceed what can be achieved with a smartphone. The technology is there, it just comes down to how we overcome the economic and regulatory challenges of the automotive industry itself. 

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