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Lost amid the clicks

Nov. 29, 2011

For nearly 10 years, the importance of ease of use [for on-board navigation systems] has been emphasized by owners, and the continued high level of problems in this area begs the question: is the industry listening to how owners want to interact with their system?” –Andy Bernhard, director, J.D. Power and Associates

I had a dream the other night (no, NOT one of THOSE! Please! This is a family-friendly blog!) which followed a theme that I’m sure is familiar to many – getting lost in what seems to be familiar surroundings. And, like many such dreams, it seems far more humorous and outlandish in the cold light of day than it did to me whilst under its spell.

You see, I’d somehow returned to the house and neighborhood I’d grown up in … only to find it being rapidly transformed by the construction of a strip mall, fuel stop, and other businesses. I couldn’t believe my (dreaming) eyes of course, so I started wandering around trying to figure out what happened to the old playground, park, and forested glen I’d spent so much of childhood roaming in and about.

Instead, of course, I got seriously lost – nothing looked even remotely familiar to me anymore. So I whipped out my cell phone and tried to find my way back to my childhood home using a navigation application.

It should surprise no one who knows me and my total lack of technological know-how that I spent the rest of the dream trying to figure out how to use the navigation “app” on my phone – becoming more and more panicked along the way as I just knew (the way one always “knows” in dreams) that my chances of getting home kept diminishing the longer it took for me to figure out how to use the blessed system.

[For a moment I thought a five year old I’d bumped into on my old playground would untangle my electronic navigation errors, but his mother called him away for lunch. That he was colored blue and looked suspiciously like a Smurf only heightened my anxiety over being lost that much further … not that I have anything against Smurfs … I think.]

In the end, of course, I woke up … and eventually (once sanity returned) laughed heartily at the whole thing.

Yet my distress over how to use navigation technology isn’t a wholly imagined affair these days. Indeed, especially where in-vehicle navigation is concerned, it seems to be a growing problem.

According to a new survey conducted by J.D. Power and Associates, light vehicle owners are continuing to experience a high number of problems with factory-installed navigation systems, primarily with routing quality and system usability.

Now in its 13th year, J.D. Power’s 2011 U.S. Navigation Usage and Satisfaction Study polled 18,303 owners of 2011 model vehicles equipped with factory-installed navigation systems and identified six factors that contribute to overall satisfaction with this technology: ease of use; routing; navigation display screen; speed of system; voice directions; and voice recognition.

The firm’s study also measured quality by examining problems per 100 (PP100) navigation systems, in which a lower score reflects higher quality.

One important note before we continue: J.D. Power’s survey concerns factory-installed navigation systems for LIGHT vehicles and does not involve technology used for the same purposes in medium- and heavy-duty commercial trucks.

Indeed, there’s an awful lot of benefit to be gained for truckers, especially when navigation is correlated with roadways that can handle the height, size, and weight of commercial vehicles, such as with TomTom’s system for truckers in the U.K., seen below:

Yet I think J.D. Power’s findings remain instructive for the trucking world, especially in terms of keeping technology makers focused on the “ease of use” issue.

Now, back to J.D. Power’s findings: on average, owners of factory-installed navigation systems experienced 351 PP100 in 2011 the firm said. The eight most-frequently reported issues, which account for more than 50% of problems reported overall, are:

• Address/street/city not found (33 PP100)

• Difficulty inputting destination (32 PP100)

• Route provided was not direct (24 PP100)

• Difficulty using voice recognition controls (23 PP100)

• Map doesn't show enough street names (21 PP100)

• Couldn't find desired menu/screen (19 PP100)

• Map or point of interest search was missing points of interest (16 PP100)

• Inability to view screen due to glare (14 PP100)

“Routing—the primary function of a navigation system—is obviously an issue and will continue to be one,” noted Andy Bernhard, one of J.D. Power’s directors. “However, for nearly 10 years, the importance of ease of use has been emphasized by owners, and the continued high level of problems in this area begs the question: is the industry listening to how owners want to interact with their system?”

J.D. Power’s study also found that system usability is one of the biggest contributors to problem incidence, with nearly one-third of reported problems related to ease of use of the navigation system.

Furthermore, the trend toward integrating the controls of different systems in the vehicle, including audio, climate control and phone, only adds to "ease-of-use" issues that owners experience with their navigation system.

For instance, among those owners who consider their multimedia system's menu structure overall to be “not at all complex,” the number of navigation system problems experienced is 243 PP100, J.D. Power noted. However, among those who say the multimedia system interface is “very complex,” the average number of problems is three times as high, at 735 PP100, the firm reported.

“There is a necessity in the industry to better understand how the complexity of interfaces and the implementation of navigation within the overall system impact the owner experience,” said Bernhard.

“Owners continue to demand a high level of technology, but it is through the integration of this technology into their day-to-day lives that both adoption and satisfaction will be influenced—and the industry continually appears to be missing the mark,” he stressed.

That’s a pretty harsh assessment, if you ask me. Then again, though, if it helps on-board navigation providers fine-tune their products in order to solve “ease-of-use” and other problems, then perhaps such a critique is worth it in the end.

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