MOBILE APPS NEED A ‘CAR MODE’?

This writeup is about the many popular mobile apps out there who would be so much more better, if only they were designed for context of use.

Car 1

The car is becoming a strong player in the digital ecosystem. There is a reason why Apple, Google and Microsoft are making big bets with things like CarPlay,Android Auto and Windows in the car.

Car 2

But those experiences, at least initially will be reserved for premium models and will take some time before they become mainstream.

Car 3

Designers and Engineers are striving hard to keep customers connected in this fourth dimension that is poised for a huge disruption like 2007, when the iPhone was born.

But this post is not about these new technologies. It is about the regular person who drives a regular car and has a regular smartphone.

One such person is me and I just happen to be an experience designer. I have a car. I also have a smartphone and I live a very connected digital life. There is no reason that some of these useful and popular apps can’t be enhanced with a “car mode.

First thought. Why not use voice right?

Wrong. A recent study by AAA shows the imperfections in the usual suspects like Siri, Google Voice, Cortana, etc.

So back to car mode. There are four key objectives when designing any experience that is consumed while driving.

Make it safe.

Show only relevant information.

Make it accessible and intuitive.

Make it usable in all conditions. DayTwilightNight, etc.

Some obvious scenarios

  1. You have to take a meeting on your phone. Number, Guest Code, Leader Code, Moderator Pin, Fuck you Lync… Blah Blah… you know drill and the frustrations… Solution: Tempo
  2. You need to find gas, coffee (I live in Seattle), or your favorite food chain in a new city maybe? Solution: Yelp
  3. Discover music. Skip, Switch, Like, Dislike… Solution: Pandora
  4. You are lost. Left Turn? Right Turn? Ave, Cross Street? Address? Landmark? Parking? Solution: Google Maps

Lets explore some solutions where a car mode will go a long way in making these interactions safe and useful.

  1. Tempo

Tempo, the smart calendar is a fantastic application. Must admit that I can’t live without it. I use it for the single reason that I never ever have to remember a meeting passcode ever again.

I typically attend meetings through my phone docked in the car when I’m driving to work in the morning. Legally allowed.

Now here is how it looks as a full size screenshot to say someone who designed it on Photoshop in a comfortable room with mood lighting and a stable chair.

Car 4Tempo as it might appear on a designer’s 27in display. Source.

Here is how it looks like in my hand at a typical viewing distance. Welcome to the real world Neo. What happened to contrast, viewing distance, environment, accessibility? In my car… a different story. Extremely dangerous and virtually impossible to use.

Car 5As it looks in my hand.

Now some common sense. If I turn on car mode at 8:20am, then the app knows a few things like…

  1. My next meeting is at 8:30am.
  2. Know which country I am in and knows which number to dial.
  3. I usually keep car mode on for about an hour.

So why the heck do I need to see every cool feature that the app has to offer when all I care about is my next meeting. Something that the app is already aware of!

Meet Tempo with Car Mode

Car 6Proposed design for TEMPO in car mode.

Car 7In my hand at a normal viewing distance.

Car 8In my car!

  1. Pandora with Car Mode

Advantages

  1. Pandora gets full real estate to show better and safer ads.
  2. Users experience beautiful full screen cover art and a very safe way to interact for just the bare minimum interaction if any.

Car 9Pandora Rest Mode. Tapping anywhere on the screen invokes the interact view for the user.

Car 10Pandora Car Mode. Only the controls that I care about with clear and safe touch targets.

Car 11Pandora Car Mode. Only the controls that I care about with clear and safe touch targets.

  1. Yelp

Advantages

  1. Users can set preferences on the places they usually visit. No search, no voice, no messing with controls or search results.
  2. Just 4 personalized and relevant results and safe touch targets.

Car 12Proposed design for Yelp in Car Mode.

Car 13Yelp in my car!

Conclusion

Disclaimer. I am not advocating people using anything when they drive. As we all know… people love breaking rules and I’m only addressing some approaches that can make these habits a little safe.

By Jatin Shah

UX Architect