This week I decided to check out automotive iPad apps. These first-generation entries are at times engaging, but ultimately I often found than frustrating and rather limited.
Let’s start with one of my favorite usability rants: hot spots. They’re quick, which is probably why three OEM iPad apps incorporate them. They’re also dirty – pretty hyperlinks that force users to repeatedly hunt to find information.
The iPad is a touch pad. Hot spots don’t create the level of engagement that is possible when users interact directly with the screen; they’re just a porting of a flawed navigation scheme to a new platform.
Interfaces fit more naturally with a touch environment are far more interesting and fun. The MB Classic app utilizes the familiar iTunes album navigation, which makes it immediately usable. Selecting a card then leads to high-quality images with technical data and an audio overlay.
BMW’s X3 Catalogue also creates some compelling interactions. The primary interface is like a magazine, with scrollable thumbnails that leads to high quality imagery, 360s, and video. There’s also an intuitive quick colorizer. I especially like the interior X-ray – it’s engaging, feels natural on a touch screen, and fits into the magazine concept. The only major downside is length – 34 pages feels really long, even to someone interested in all the content.
The Audi A8 experience doesn’t start off well. It’s a huge download (611MB) and requires you to watch a one-minute video intro. The start menu is also problematic, as it’s cluttered and not much better than a hot spot interface.
Further in, we get high quality video and imagery. The 360 spin + colorizer is fun, but the link to the main site to complete the configuration process is awkward. Other animation such as turning knobs and dials is rather limited.
Least impressive is the Honda CR-Z Experience, which falls short nearly across the board. Aside from the problematic hot spots, the other primary means of navigation is swiping through screenshots of information. Swiping is just the cost of entry on smart phones and doesn’t bring anything new to the game. What’s worse is that the content is uninspiring, comprised almost entirely of dark screenshots accompanied by small, low-contrast text doesn’t draw in the user.
Despite some initial stumbling, these early movers are at least trying to figure out what they can accomplish on touch pads. There are no Angry Birds-type home runs (granted, that’s a nearly unreachable standard), but I do expect to see some interesting and innovative offerings over the next year.