Commentary: Technology Overload

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Photo by William Maley

For the past fifteen to twenty years, we experienced a golden age for technology in vehicles.

Today, we have navigation systems that can tell you where traffic is along your route, ports to plug in your phone and/or music device, digital gauges that mimic analog gauge clusters, voice commands, and other new items that were only dreamed about within the last few years.

But with this addition of all of this technology in vehicles, there comes the question of whether we're adding too much technology into vehicles?

Certain technologies have actually made their mark by making some marked improvements. For example, instead of having one of your hands on the phone and your attention on something else, the hands-free system keeps you hands on the wheel and focused on the road while having a conversation. There are now systems coming in vehicles that can read your text messages, helping reduce more distraction.

Then, there are technologies in some vehicles that are installed for technology sake. An example would be the ability to post Facebook and Twitter updates from your car. Why?! Who really wants tweet or issue a status to tell everyone that I'm driving? Maybe it could come in handy when you get into accident and you can alert your friends and followers about it.

Another feature that is there just for show is found on the Cadillac CUE infotainment system. Cadillac says you can pinch-to-zoom the touchscreen when on the navigation screen. I have tried this and found it completely useless. The pinch-to-zoom was slow and clunky. It was easier just to hit the zoom-in and zoom-out buttons.

But that is not the only thing automakers have to face with adding new technology to vehicles. They have to make the technology they are putting in are easily understandable to buyers. This has been a mixed bag, as some automakers do it very well while others need to work on.

Last month J.D. Power published their 2012 U.S. Navigation Usage Satisfaction Study which looks at navigation systems in vehicles. This year's study found consumer satisfaction went down with automaker's navigation units, scoring 681 out of 1,000 point scale, one of the lowest scores in the fourteen year history the study has been done. The big complaints in the study dealt with confusing layout of systems, general lack of intuitiveness, and the terribleness that is voice commands.

There is one other thing that isn't really being talked about with all of this added technology automakers are putting in: Keeping alive. Consider this: 2013 marks the twelfth anniversary of the introduction BMW's iDrive system. Twelve years. Imagine how old the components in the iDrive system or for that matter Mercedes-Benz's COMAND, Audi's MMI, or a number of other systems in that era. Michael Karesh of TrueDelta asked what it would take to keep vehicles with all of this new tech on the road. The answer it seems is a bit murky.

There's another layer to this problem and that is the possibility of upgrades. Certain automakers such as BMW and Mercedes-Benz are now offering Apps, much like the ones you can find on your smartphone. Ford and General Motors announced this year that they are working a App Store for vehicles and welcoming developers. But how far back will automakers allow apps to appear on vehicles? Only on the new models? One or two years back?

With all of this new technology, you have to wonder if automakers are trying to be like electronic manufacturers where in which they introduce new products and features to obsolete the current product. That doesn't exactly quite work in the automotive industry as the average price of a car is a bit more than the average price of name a piece of personal electronic here.

So to go back to the original question of whether vehicles have too much technology or not and the answer depends on what side of the coin you sit on. Technology has helped improved vehicles within the past few years. However on the flip side, automakers still haven't quite figured out how to implement technology to the point of where owners don’t hate it and keeping it alive.

The answer is still a bit murky and will likely not be answered till a bit further down the road.

William Maley is a contributing writer to Victory & Reseda, based in the Detroit area. His work also appears in Cheers & Gears, The Hooniverse and Autobytel.com

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