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Fewer car owners bashing in-vehicle apps, but problems persist

February 4, 2022
In-vehicle apps are getting fewer criticisms than before.
Early versions often were clunky, leading many consumers to turn directly to their smartphones instead. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay gained traction from that.
But automakers’ in-car app interfaces are getting better — and becoming more popular, according to a new consumer survey by J.D. Power.
The percentage of vehicle owners using automakers’ built-in apps that appear on infotainment screens continues to increase.
Nearly 40% of the latest survey’s respondents say they use an OEM-offered app at least half of the time they drive. Such apps can offer information ranging from real-time traffic conditions to best nearby gasoline prices to primo parking spots.
Usage rates are highest for domestic OEMs such as Ford and General Motors, with almost 50% of owners using app offerings half the time and 27% saying they use them each time they drive.
That’s progress, but work remains. For example, apps were cited as the third-most problematic feature vehicle owners mentioned in the J.D. Power survey last year.
The main areas of dissatisfaction: connectivity issues and incorrect information.
"Owners are looking for accurate real-time information about their vehicle, which many apps are currently not providing," said Frank Hanley, J.D. Power’s senior director-global automotive consulting.
App speeds are improving (speed is top-of-mind for most users), but "accuracy and stability are not, in many cases," he said. "The apps are also lacking many of the features that owners want, causing many owners to say that the app is providing no real value."
The app features most desired by owners include remote control, navigation assistance, service monitoring and status/diagnostic information.
No single app in the industry currently executes all those features well, J.D. Power reported.
Other issues: Car buyers say they struggle to set up some in-vehicle apps. And many people aren’t aware of available app content. J.D. Power says dealers can help ease those pain points. 
Surveyed owners who got dealership assistance with set-up and feature explanations are more likely to use the app and express greater satisfaction.
Many dealerships have become creative in familiarizing customers with the technology in their newly purchased vehicles, apps included.
Some dealers have hired tech-savvy local high school students to offer customers tech tutorials as part of the vehicle delivery process.   
But customer willingness to pay for apps remains low, according to the J.D. Power survey on the current level of app use.
While 90% of owners do not pay for their apps, there is an increase in the percentage of those willing (or say they are willing) to pay in the future.
Among app users, 28% say they would be willing to pay up to $5 for an app, though 58% keep their wallets closed.
Of the 32 brands benchmarked in the study, among the top-performing mobile apps are Volvo Cars, MyHyundai, Genesis Intelligent Assistant and MySubaru.
"It’s critical that manufacturers devote proper resources to developing apps that truly meet the needs of new owners," Hanley said. "New app offerings from Jeep and BMW, for example, show noticeable improvement by adding additional content and increase in speed."
But some others "have issues with speed, pairing and connectivity."