12V: You Wanna Connect? U Can, with Uconnect 5
While Ford was busy trying to take over the global spot with the best infotainment system with SYNC, FCA (Fiat Chrysler of America) was quietly working in the background, steadily upgrading its infotainment systems – especially after some embarrassing moments of journalists showing how the infotainment units can be hacked. While the Ford units have improved, the company abandoned Microsoft to the brains behind their infotainment systems, and instead partnered with Blackberry’s QNX division to develop the software behind SYNC. FCA has its own in-house developers. They also worked with Harman, and was one of the first systems to work with Google to incorporate Android Auto in the dashboard. A few years ago, the Uconnect software had the feature set, but proved unreliable and generally buggy with the potential to be hacked. In fact, I even wrote a column about a constant rebooting problem in my father’s 2018 Dodge Durango. However, the 2020 model Uconnect has proven to be very good, now that the bugs have been worked out. Moreover, FCA even discusses hacking and the countermeasures taken in the owner’s manuals of its new vehicles. And FCA is taking Uconnect to the next level to compete with the benchmark Ford system with Uconnect 5.
Uconnect 5 brings third-party software recognition, with Android’s automotive operating system and processing speeds that are five times faster. Additionally, the new Firmware Over The Air (FOTA) seamlessly loads improved software updates to the vehicle and promises to do so without crashing. In the dashboard for the specialist will be a new 12.3-inch screen supporting 15 million pixels in Ultra HD. Amazon was also brought onboard: Uconnect 5 expands Alexa “Home to Car” functionality to include in-vehicle Alexa virtual assistant with natural voice capability and “Car to Home” features.
FCA worked hard on the user experience. According to FCA, UX is a significant reason for purchase and Uconnect 5 responds by providing an easy-to-use, intuitive and personalized experience for every customer. The UX design team worked hand in hand with the interior, color and material design teams to seamlessly integrate the new technology into each vehicle and make appropriate use of the three available screen styles – portrait, square and landscape. It seems that Ram vehicles are moving towards portrait-style infotainment screens, while Jeep vehicles typically have a square design. It is nice to know the system can be integrated into a variety of screens to not have one corporate dashboard for all FCA vehicles.
To integrate screens inside the vehicle, UX designers created detailed backdrops to match interior colors and themes depending on the vehicle. Screen graphics will be specific to brand and even vehicle trim level. Surface integration also plays a role and coordinates with the surrounding interior materials. Care was taken in the design with screen edges, location, angle and depth for proper viewing. It seems a far cry from first-generation infotainment systems. Uconnect 5 also allows users to create an exclusive home screen with a familiar feel. You can set up the icons just like your smartphone for quick access. For example, on my current Uconnect system (Chrysler) I am allowed to access the surround cameras from the home screen tray while the vehicle is traveling less than 5 MPH. I find this feature very useful to negotiate parking lots and protect the front bumper from cement parking blocks. Uconnect 5 introduces a new, card-based format that allows display screens to be personalized, simplified and grouped by individual needs and interests while delivering a cleaner, fresher look. With multiple cards, the user can access the available features and determine how and where they are displayed. Once inside a card, information and icons can be accessed in no more than two button pushes. Voice control is also promised to be vastly improved with natural speech able to control vehicle functions.
Speaking of voice commands, Alexa integration is the hot ticket in the mobile electronics industry and Uconnect 5 is ready for the challenge. FCA says with the Uconnect skill for Alexa, customers with Alexa-enabled devices at home can ask Alexa to start the car, lock/unlock doors and check in on the vehicle. In the car, Uconnect 5 gives occupants the freedom to interact with Alexa just as they do at home or on a personal device. Occupants can ask Alexa to play music, podcasts or audiobooks. They can add items to their to-do list, check news, weather, traffic, sports and other real-time information. Responses and streaming audio are delivered through the vehicle’s audio system, allowing anyone in the entire vehicle to easily interact with Alexa.
UConnect 5 looks awesome on paper. If FCA promises it will have solid software out of the gate, it will be a great platform for mobile electronics dealers to expand on. Even if there are problems, as long as the software over-the-air updates are seamlessly fixed overnight, all will be OK. But we just don’t want to see any hacking or crashing like older Uconnect. We think FCA has learned its lesson and Uconnect 5 just might be the best infotainment system when it arrives in dealerships.