GM puts shopping in car dashboards

Adam Smith
Adam Smith Managing Director | Operations Team

I love this. About time. But I can fully understand why it’s taken so long.

We’re in a time where it’s not the technology holding us back, it’s raring to go. It’s the processes, humans, risks, suits, lawyers, and red-tape that’s slowing the world down.

This is a perfect example of something that’s been technically possible for at least 5 years, and only now being introduced. The reason this is now a reality wasn’t a technical break-through, but a contractual breakthrough, a meeting of minds, ideas and a common goal.

GM has essentially created a ‘Marketplace’ for businesses. Motivated by the beauty of ongoing revenue from a captive market of someone sitting in one of your cars - it’s kinda perfect.

There has been some movement in this space before. Some crazy and pointless, some useful. Ironically most of the useful stuff doesn’t yet exist (why is Waze still a phone app?), while less useful stuff has been and gone (the thankfully discontinued Twitter integration from Mini).

Better than a phone experience?

The key here is the correct UX trade-off. Anything on the dashboard needs to be a nicer experience than just using a phone. Even if legally mounted on the dashboard, the tiny screen is difficult to read, and impossible to navigate with an unsteady finger that will touch the wrong area of the screen 90% of the time. Phone apps just aren’t designed for that. We tend to use our dashboard applications when it’s a nicer experience than the phone, such as the satnav & music.

However, phones win our attention back if the dash isn’t internet connected. I still expect traffic and Spotify access. A satnav without Google Traffic or a media player that only plays MP3s will lose out every time. So while the UX and larger display of the dashboard satnav is nicer, I’ll trade that for the 7” display if it means I can avoid traffic.

So, the Marketplace app stops the user worrying about the tradeoff between easy UI and internet connectivity, in an application that also requires minimal cognitive effort and can safely be used while on the move.

This could have been an app on a phone - but a phone app is just the right level of inconvenience to stop it being successful. By the time the driver as found their phone and loaded up the app, they might as well just order their coffee the old skool way. Simply pressing a few buttons to select a coffee as you take the slip road off the motorway is a lovely and convenient experience.

We’re currently in this weird 5-year overlap. We don’t have fully automated cars yet, but we do have tablets built into our dashboards that require cognitive effort to use. When full driving automation kicks in, then the dashboard app will take a backseat (maybe literally as well as figuratively) as users will have full uninterrupted access to their phones while on the move. But for now, little treats like this will gain a lot of traction.

Who pays?

Stores that we’re likely to visit on the move, such as petrol stations and Starbucks, pay firstly to be on the app for exposure, but also pay a % of any revenue taken by the app. The customer remains untouched with the supplier taking a hit on the margin.

Let's make it better

There isn’t much documentation on how all this works currently, but V2 will hopefully allow the merchant to have your GPS position, and estimate your arrival time. This makes ordering coffees, scheduling lunch, removing the ‘waiting times’ to zero for all occasions. Restaurants on board could upload menus, allow me to chose before setting off, then start to prep as I’m 10 minutes away. Petrol stations could allow drivers to make real-time decisions on how much they pay, a 2-minute detour off a junction to fill up for £5 less is attractive. McDonald's could have number plate recognition, and direct me to the correct kiosk where my burger awaits - this is the future I’m personally very excited for!

Yes, we can do all this now on a phone, but who wants a million apps and who thinks that far ahead? The Dashboard puts this into my consciousness.

All of this is was possible years ago. But it requires too many people to converge on something that currently has no set standards or clear OS. Hopefully, we all find a way to open these possibilities real soon.