First There Was Gps, then There Was Infotainment
The global positioning system (GPS) was initially developed during the 1970s, but it didn't become fully operational until 1994. Shortly after the system became available, a number of automakers took advantage of the technology. Earlier attempts at original equipment manufacturer (OEM) in-vehicle navigation systems had met with failure, because they depended on dead reckoning navigation.
The first OEM GPS navigation systems were relatively primitive by modern standards, but the technology progressed quite rapidly. When a more accurate GPS signal was made available to civilians in the early 2000s, OEM navigation systems became ubiquitous almost overnight.
Today, OEM navigation systems form the hearts of many highly-integrated infotainment systems. These powerful infotainment systems often take charge of the climate controls, provide access to vital information about the condition of the engine and other systems, and typically offer some type of navigation option. While some, such as Kia's UVO, don't offer navigation, that option is typically offered in a separate package. And if your vehicle didn't come with GPS from the factory, it's often possible to retrofit it with an OEM unit. Some vehicles even have all of the wiring in place, which makes it a remarkably painless upgrade to perform.
OEM Navigation and Infotainment Options
Ford has used a couple of integrated infotainment systems to handle communications, entertainment and navigation. Currently, this integrated system is powered by an embedded version of Microsoft Windows that's designed specifically for use in automotive applications. These systems were originally referred to as Ford SYNC, but there's an updated version called MyFord Touch.
- Ford SYNC
- MyFord Touch
General Motors offers on-board navigation through its OnStar system. A one-year subscription to OnStar is typically offered to new GM owners, after which users are required to pay a monthly fee. GM also has an in-dash GPS system that uses information from a built-in hard drive. These systems can be updated with map data from the GM Navigation Disc program. The hard drive can also be used to store digital music files.
Honda was one of the first OEMs to experiment with on-board navigation, and it worked on a dead-reckoning system in the early 1980s. Modern Honda navigation systems use hard drives to store map data, and new maps can be downloaded from the Internet. Some Honda GPS systems also include a lifetime subscription to a live traffic data service.
Both GM and Honda use Gracenote, which is a service that can recognize artist information by examining song files. That information is then shown on the unified display screen.
BMW offers navigation through an infotainment system it calls iDrive. Since iDrive controls most of the secondary systems, BMW GPS navigation units are highly integrated. In addition to navigation, iDrive is also used to operate the climate controls, audio, communications and other systems.
Volkswagen also offers optional touchscreen navigation, which is integrated into the entertainment center. These systems are slightly different in each vehicle, but they typically offer Bluetooth pairing, live traffic data and other common features.
Kia offers a couple of different infotainment options. Their UVO system includes a CD player and built-in digital music jukebox, and it's capable of interfacing with Bluetooth-enabled phones. These systems also include additional functionality like voice controls and rear-view cameras. However, UVO doesn't feature built-in GPS navigation. Kia does offer a navigation package, but it replaces UVO.
- Kia Nav
- Kia UVO
Convenience vs. Usability
Each OEM infotainment system is somewhat different, but all of the major automakers have moved towards highly integrated infotainment systems in recent years. That high level of integration makes them incredibly convenient, but it has also led to usability issues. According to a study performed by J.D. Power and Associates, most consumer complaints about OEM navigation systems are related to ease of use.
Since these infotainment systems tend to be integrated with climate controls, radios and other devices, the learning curve can be relatively steep. The iDrive system has been singled out as a major distraction, because it tends to pull a driver's eyes away from the road.
According to the J.D. Power and Associates study, 19% of OEM GPS navigation users were unable to locate a desired menu or screen, 23% had difficulty with voice recognition and 24% claimed that their devices provided incorrect routes.
Some systems received higher marks than others, such as the Garmin device that's available in Dodge Chargers. Garmin is a popular aftermarket GPS manufacturer, and the navigation platform it provides for the Charger is reportedly much easier to use than many other OEM systems.
Navigating the Options
Since infotainment systems are so deeply integrated into most new vehicles, you may want to check a few of them out before you buy your next new car or truck. GPS navigation may not be that high on your list of priorities, but you're essentially stuck with what you have after you buy a new vehicle. Each infotainment system also offers a laundry list of various features, and some, like UVO, are even designed around a multimedia experience rather than navigation. In that case, you'll have the option to go with the aftermarket GPS unit of your choice.