Real time MPG on the display

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  • Updated 2 years ago
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Since you have the data, how about showing instantaneous MPG on the main display as one drives?
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Spike

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Posted 5 years ago

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Adam Altman, Alum

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Official Response
Hi Everyone, 

I'm Adam, and I recently took over Product at Automatic.

Firstly, I'm sorry that we've caused so much frustration for you all. That's never the goal and we try our best to move this complex machine forward. We can’t do everything in the timeframes people would like and hear the strong ask for realtime MPG (and realtime data in general) from the community. I wanted to provide some clarity on the topic, why things happened as they did, and where they’re likely (but not definitely) headed.

Resources
It is true that if realtime data were the sole focus of the company we could have delivered some form of it already. However, there is more work to it than one might initially imagine—than we initially imagined.  As we looked into it, we discovered some unique challenges given our architecture, not insurmountable but definitely a sizable block of work. Given the various constraints of a startup company, we have to make tough choices about what we spend our time on. Some team members needed to make realtime data happen—the bottom of the stack, Firmware folks—have been bottlenecked with critical needs basically since launch day. I know it seems like a long time, but it’s the truth.

These are not the same team members as those who, in the same timeframe, were able to develop new headline products from Automatic like License+ and our recent Nest integration.  We try hard to keep a frequent pace of delivering new exciting things that will solve the needs of particular user groups where we can. And we found the capacity among other groups in the company to deliver those, but the folks required to do realtime data have had their hands absolutely full with truly core NEEDS. 

I say needs, not wants, because I’m talking about the basic pipelines that enable our existing product to continue working as promised and as you’d expect it, given what’s written on the box. A sample of the kind of needs I’m talking about are as follows (this is not even close to an exhaustive list):
  • Improving reliability in your Adapter connecting to your phone quickly after you begin a trip amid constantly updating bluetooth profiles from the mobile OS providers.  iOS 8 was NOT a help in that department. 
  • Staying vigilant about security and encryption throughout so your car is not hackable (google some of our competitors on that...)
  • Refining the nuance of interfacing with certain car models so that we are 1000% sure we don’t drain batteries, brick cars' computers, or simply get nonsense data out. Many of the OBD products on the market will fail hard for certain cars and to us that’s not acceptable.
  • Improving the processing algorithms to make the highly variable output of analog sensors something ‘sane’—e.g. raw GPS data is nowhere near as clean as the pretty routes we deliver back.
  • There’s much much more...in fact, over 140 builds of Firmware have happened since Automatic launched, each tweaking and subtly improving your experience.

The folks on that team are staying up late nights, working weekends, and going to absurd lengths to ensure that we’re delivering the best quality we can on the things we do. If it feels like things are working as they should, thank them for those hours. If you’ve had a rough experience, more than likely it is because of something in their long queue of to-dos. They say “hardware is hard” for a reason.  The good news is we are getting close to a level of stability that we can be proud of, and may soon have some bandwidth to turn to new firmware level features.

Product Perspective
Apart from finding the time among the right people, we must be cautious about what is delivered. There are two product level questions that influence thinking around this specific feature:
  1. are we upholding our values and meeting a quality bar of delivery against them?
  2. what are we trying to make in the world, and is what we’re doing the best thing we could be doing to get there?
As a young company just starting out, we had a lot of risks to consider and wanted very much to err on the side of caution in matters of user safety and trust. These are critical values for us, and any product decision needs to be designed and tested to ensure that they are maintained. At first blush, displaying dynamic data to drivers during a drive seemed to us fraught with the risk of distracting drivers and compromising their safety. Perhaps this risk is surmountable with good design, or small in relative terms, but we did not have enough of our other risks under control or bandwidth available to solve that properly. We felt that simply putting it into the product without exploration of effects would be irresponsible. As our company and product matures, we can turn some attention to proper study of these things. And for what it's worth, I personally feel that there is room to do this well.

On company and product strategy, what we are trying to make is simple to express: we want to enable digital services—ours and others—to make life better using data from your vehicle. Better could mean cheaper, easier, faster, more efficient, more luxurious, more automated, or any of a number of desirable adjectives.

We believe you should never have to forget where you parked, be unsure what that check engine light means, or feel helpless in a collision. We’ve made the connected car somewhat of a reality today: where your car talks to your smart home (Nest) and lets you automate dozens of services (IFTTT). And we also believe in a rich future where all of the touchpoints you have available as a driver or car owner are informed by the data that Automatic is making available. Think: insurance, maintenance, driving instruction, accounting, perhaps even parking, gas buying, et ceterea. This future of connected services will come in part from our own flagship application, but most of the interface as we envision it will come in other companies’ applications.

This goal is our point of view on where the major value lies for the greatest number of car owners and drivers—and we are focusing our efforts accordingly. The three notable releases of the last six months (Ford Sync, License+, and Nest Integration) have all lined up with this future world we are trying to create for you: diverse applications that each make use of your vehicle data to solve a particular problem.

This may sound like our core application gets no love. I'll be the first to admit that for the past six months or so that's a reasonable assessment looking from the outside in. There're a variety of technical reasons that contributed to our lack of visible progress, as we've had to think about how to redesign our code to be more flexible and scalable. Good news is, we're on the pathway to that redesigning right now and what's coming down the pipe should be an exciting world of much more rapid iteration.

On realtime in-drive data: there is no philosophical opposition to basic realtime data (e.g. MPG level) existing in the product. But as our strategy became more focused the roadmap had to as well. As a result, realtime data is not one of the higher points of product strategy for us to own in house. Working against it further, it requires work that we haven’t found time to do just yet. We may still. MPG in particular does not seem impossible, though that is not a promise.

Without question, we are not trying to have our in-house app be the drag racers' OBD companion with every statistic you can see under the sun. Fantastic apps exist which serve that group masterfully. We are more likely to find a way for our hardware to speak to those apps than we are to try to replicate their features. Again, not a promise. And if what I just proposed is not possible a year from now, I’ll point back to this post saying no promise was made.

History in Community and Setting Expectations
Yes, there was a time when some variant of realtime data was talked about as planned to go into the product. And at that time our community managers indicated some positivity about its likelihood. But planned does not equal promised and roadmaps get refined. That bears repeating: planned does NOT equal promised.  

The community forum is a wonderful place for us to interact with you, to gather ideas and feedback. We created the community and staff it generously to because it is important to us that the conversation can happen. But it does not exist to bind us to any particular product commitments or for certain uncharitable members to launch assaults on our dear community managers.

I hope my explanation in the preceding section gives clarity to the reasons why our roadmap is what it is. As of right now, realtime data during a drive it is not on any scheduled build plan for our application. We have never advertised on our box or product website that it was a feature to come. That doesn’t mean it’s been rejected, just not a plan to which we’ve committed, and I believe frankness is the best policy here. That said, I am personally exploring ways to get this need filled best—most likely through a partner application.

Though at times it may not feel like it, the Product planners at Automatic do spend a lot of time pouring over user feedback. The community is an important channel for that, and many others exist. The way we process feature requests is by examining underlying motivations and exploring all the possible solutions to solve that desire for users. Take as a sacrificial concept displaying your current speed. Would one want to see that:
  • for the sake of the datapoint? 
  • proving trustworthiness to parents, employers, spouses? 
  • to avoid speeding tickets? 
  • to maybe save money by slowing down? 
  • or just because seeing it wiggle on their phone makes them feel like the 'future is now'?
All reasons above are valid, and very different solutions would be designed for each. Also valid is the possibility that we feel some or all of these desires deserve focus that we cannot bring to it while achieving our other goals for you.  In that case, we’d turn to partners to help deliver it.  All of which is to say, your input is incredibly valuable, even when it isn’t acted upon in a visibly direct manner.

Final Thoughts
This section is copied verbatim from my post to another thread about Windows Phone. I recast it here because it is still exactly what I value and hope to communicate.

I hope this reply is more satisfying than upsetting. I’m sure to have said some things that one could point out as imprecise, find counter-examples to, or otherwise take down if the goal is to do just that.  We’re trying very hard to make something brand new work in the world and are in the early innings.  We will not be able to please everyone—ever, in truth, but especially at this stage.

I cannot necessarily give you the thing you want right now, but I'm trying to deliver on the important goals of treating respectfully every person we deal with and being transparent about our doings. I ask only that you please return the respect when letting us know what you wish we could do.  Our dear community agents at Automatic are not the ones who get to make the call on product roadmap, but they do have to take the brunt of some uncharitable phrasings to otherwise very desired feedback.

To end on a positive note, I personally think a little bit of realtime data would be fun. :)

Best,
Adam
(Edited)
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Adam Altman, Alum

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Official Response
**** UPDATE FOR 2ND GENERATION ADAPTER ANNOUNCEMENT ****

Hi All, 

I'm sorry you're frustrated with our latest announcements - that's never the intention. 

What is unique to the 2nd generation adapter is the ability to connect to 3rd Party streaming apps, supported by an updated bluetooth stack. These 3rd party Streaming connections are a very separate matter from getting the device to read instantaneous data and send it to our own app. 3rd party Streaming apps were never an announced or promised feature, rather something new we are able to introduce to those who want it.

To be clear, we have NOT said that the 1st gen adapter is incapable of ever delivering realtime data to an end user experience. In fact it still *may*, just that if it ever did it would come inside of our Automatic app. 1st gen adapters are technically capable of pushing some data (though not as much as gen 2) in near realtime, they simply lack the second bluetooth connection to speak to another app. (Note: gen1 adapters can talk to most all of the new partner apps, just not the special ones that require real-time Streaming data.) Thus, getting realtime data on gen1 is a software question, not a hardware one. That said, such a feature it is not a top priority to put in the Automatic app. In other posts I have given some insight into how we prioritize features and work here at the company, so will not go too deep into it again but urge you to read those if curious.

We are surely not trying to punish early adopters. Hardware and software development are essentially separate roadmaps. The 2nd gen adapter is a hardware thing. Delivering instantaneous data through our app from any adapter is a software thing. (Note: even the gen2 does not do this.) In some sense, it's apples to oranges to bemoan that hardware work took the place of software work. Rather, our software side has had too many priorities to fulfill every last request from our beloved users. There are so many great ideas and wants for what Automatic can do that no one company our size could possibly deliver on all with reasonable speed and quality—though we have gotten to quite a few. I’m truly sorry it’s not the one that you wanted. We are making decisions with limited resources to invest, and the ladies and gents of our engineering team have been working round-the-clock, weekends included. As a solution to the ‘so many great ideas for what you wish Automatic could do’ conundrum, we decided to prioritize the App Gallery & developer platform as the ultimate solution for solving all users needs. In fact, our CEO made a great blog post about this very topic today. The constellation of partner apps released today and the platform’s future potential unlocks a ton of new functionality for the countless 1st gen adapter owners out there. We’re proud of that and stand behind the decision to spend our cycles working on it.

As with any modern hardware product company, newer models will be released with more functionality and upgraded specs. Cellphones, computers, activity trackers, even something as fixed-seeming as a connected thermostat all go through periodic upgrade cycles that take the learnings of the previous generation and try to make it better. To not improve when and were we can would be a disservice to all the users who are willing to upgrade and to the larger goal which we set out to do: make the connected car a reality as soon as possible.  

We are proud of the work we've done with the 1st gen device, but look back to the very first iPhone, or even say an iPhone4, versus what you can get today. It is to be expected that things get better—and in large part thanks to your feedback. To carry on the iPhone analogy, some of that ‘getting better’ will come as free updates to the software of a device, much like getting the new iOS version.  We’ve delivered over a hundred firmware updates and several dozen app versions since gen1 started shipping, all of which you get for free. Other features, like a retina screen, LTE connection, or contactless NFC chip (the thing that makes ApplePay work), will require a new piece of hardware.  

So again, I'm sorry if we’ve caused you frustration. I hope this explanation gives clarity and some modicum of relief to the frustration.

Cheers,
Adam
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Amy

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Official Response
Hello everyone. We hear you and we understand your frustration. I've chatted with our CEO we'll be sending an email in the next couple of days to everyone who has been participating in the RTD conversation. Please stay tuned!