GM Hires Former Apple Exec To Get Infotainment On Track

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Have you noticed how important infotainment systems have become in vehicles lately? Over the years, they went from being a bonus feature to a must-have. It used to be that in-car entertainment was an optional thing, with shows like “pimp my ride” installing everything from TVs to DVD players to Playstations. Today, they’re serious business and many drivers wouldn’t want to buy a car without a decent touchscreen display.

With the rise of technology, drivers expect more than just a radio and some climate controls in their vehicles. They want the latest and greatest in infotainment systems that can do everything from playing music to providing turn-by-turn directions, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg now.

Car manufacturers have taken notice. They’ve been upping their game to make infotainment systems an integral part of their vehicles, and even some fairly low-end budget ICE* vehicles have touchscreens now.

This is even more important for us electric vehicle drivers because we need to carefully plan our routes to ensure there’s enough charge to make it to the destination. Without the right information, drivers could get stuck miles away from a charging station. So, there needs to be not just a map, but detailed information like terrain, wind, temperature, and speed limits all factored in to make sure we don’t get stuck.

Electric vehicle infotainment systems can also provide drivers with real-time information on charging stations, including location, availability, and even pricing. Some systems even allow drivers to pre-plan their route based on charging station availability, ensuring they don’t get stranded because somebody dropped the ball and the station’s down.

Plus, just getting the information right isn’t enough. The vehicle’s infotainment system needs to be user friendly, have an attractive and modern interface, and not suffer from lag or malfunctions. So, this is a pretty tall order.

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Sadly, many vehicle manufacturers have dropped the ball so badly on this that they’ve basically just given the display away to our smartphones. For example, my Chevy Bolt EUV has a decent touchscreen display, but the software is very limited and clunky. So, I usually connect to Android Auto so that I can have good access to Waze, YouTube Music, and A Better Route Planner (ABRP) as needed.

Chevrolet Bolt EUV infotainment screen, dash, and rearview mirror with camera feed.

You’re probably asking yourself why vehicle manufacturers don’t just take the next step and integrate the smartphone user experience into the infotainment system completely, which would allow us to avoid flaky wifi-based wireless connections or clunky cabled connections to our smartphones. As usual, the answer is that the big, established players tend to be behind the times compared to more nimble new entrants to the market, but some recent news from GM shows that these old dogs just might be able to learn some new tricks.

Recently, GM announced that Mike Abbott, who formerly served as the vice president of Engineering for Apple’s Cloud Services division, will be taking on the role of Executive Vice President for Software at GM starting from May 22, 2023. In this position, he will report directly to GM’s CEO and chair, Mary “The Leader” Barra.

“We have entered the next phase of our technology driven transformation focused on rapidly scaling new EV models and our Ultifi software platform, which will drive faster innovation and enable new and exciting customer experiences,” said Barra. “Mike’s experience as a founder and entrepreneur coupled with his proven track record creating and delivering some of the market’s most compelling software-defined solutions for consumers and companies make him an excellent fit at GM.”

Abbott will join GM’s senior leadership team to spearhead an integrated software organization responsible for the development of enterprise and vehicle software technologies, providing digital services and features for commercial and retail clients. This newly formed team will combine the functions of three separate software teams currently operating within GM — one led by Scott Miller as Vice President of Software Defined Vehicle and Operating System, another by Stacy Lynett as Vice President of Information and Digital Technology, and third by Edward Kummer as Chief Digital Officer of Digital Business.

With extensive experience in technology industries spanning cloud computing, security, networking, and storage, Mike Abbott is well suited to his role at GM. He previously led Apple’s Cloud Services team as vice president, where he oversaw the development of the core infrastructure for Apple’s cloud-based services, including Private Relay, iCloud, iMessage, account security, and Mail. In addition to their cloud technology developments, his team also created new products for Apple’s Education and Enterprise categories.

“I’m a product person at heart, so as the transformation of transportation quickly accelerates, I know that software is the catalyst for redefining experiences for consumers and enterprises like never before,” said Abbott. “GM is playing a pivotal role in this shift and I’m excited to join the team and bring my experience in software to bear to not only take advantage of the massive opportunities that lay ahead for the company but to help change the world.”

Furthermore, while at Stanford AI Lab (SAIL), Abbott served as a Visiting Scholar with a focus on computer vision research as well as global benefits of other products. Prior to his role at GM, he also worked as a General Partner for Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB), where he specialized in investments in mobile and cloud computing while also working with budding entrepreneurs to optimize social media tools and team building strategies — and maximize funding.

Abbott has also held leadership positions at other notable tech companies, such as Twitter, Palm, and Microsoft, where he led teams responsible for developing innovative, secure, and high-performance applications and services.

What I Hope Comes Of This

I’d really like to see GM’s infotainment systems improve, especially in light of its announcement that it doesn’t intend to continue offering Android Auto and Apple CarPlay in its vehicles. If GM does that without creating a very good system to replace such systems, the company will alienate potential buyers. If GM gets this right, it could end up not mattering whether it supports phone screen mirroring and connectivity.

Putting in leadership that knows how to get this right could be a sign that GM’s going to offer a much better infotainment system.

Featured image: A Bolt EUV’s steering wheel, gauge cluster display, and infotainment system. Image provided by GM.

*ICE = internal combustion engine

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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

Jennifer Sensiba has 1987 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba