Millions of drivers use smartphone apps to help operate their cars every day, but many aren’t satisfied with them, and it’s hard to find independent reviews of how they work.
This is minimal customer research by JD Power and my own testing of my new car.
JD Power reports that 38% of owners used automaker-developed apps on at least half of their drives last year. The number will likely increase in 2022, as features become more widely available and more sophisticated.
Despite this, application issues were the third most common problem in JD Power’s 2021 Initial Quality Survey.
The apps, offered by nearly every brand, allow drivers to do everything from scheduling service to remote starting the car, planning trips, and paying for electric vehicle charging. The apps can also provide simple diagnostics such as checking tire pressures or accessing “Hey Alexa” onboard digital assistants.
But they often fail due to connection issues, incorrect information, and other issues.
Many users give up apps out of frustration.
Widely used, often frustrating
“Owners are looking for accurate, real-time information about their vehicles, which many applications do not currently provide,” said Frank Hanley, senior director of global automotive consulting at JD Power. “While app speeds are improving, accuracy and stability are not in many cases. The apps also lack many of the features their owners would want, which has caused many owners to say the app doesn’t offer any real value.”
This makes the whole process a waste of everyone’s time – customers who threw their hands in frustration and automakers who invested so much time and talent in the apps and features they’re supposed to control.
The applications are not limited to luxury brands or even expensive cars. Some cars and SUVs at the heart of the market offer advanced applications.
JD Power says local brand owners are the biggest users of the app, with 50% of users saying they use the app on half of their drives, and 27% saying they use it every time.
Common complaints included connection speed and poor explanation of features. JD Power studied 32 brands in its survey.
Applications can be very convenient. My test car key sat on the kitchen counter for days thanks to a feature that allows my phone to act as a key via an app. Another app allowed me to quickly charge an electric car simply by plugging it into a commercial DC charger – which saved a lot of time and little frustration compared to using many different chargers’ own apps.
Unfortunately, auto maker apps are much more difficult to activate than the quick and easy apps smartphone users have come to expect.
I need a human for what?
When I specifically scheduled a car to evaluate its application, it took more than half an hour for an expert from the automaker in my driveway to connect it to the company’s server. On top of that, I was told that it could take days for its features to be available, because the apps section runs bankers’ business hours.
human intervention? What is this, 2006?
Automakers like to think their products are uniquely complex and important, but millions of people have securely activated smartphone apps to conduct vital financial and medical transactions in seconds, at their convenience, not their suppliers.
I fell off the light. The company representative came to my house. Customers, who have just handed over thousands of dollars to buy a new car, are told they have to do it at the dealership, sometimes by scheduling an additional visit.
If the App Store worked this way, no one would ever care if the birds were angry.