The Ups and (Falling) Downs of Using Your Smartphone As a Navigation Device in the Car

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Posted May 31, 2019

Today’s consumers do most everything on their smartphones including using the phone as an in-car navigation device. If you are one of these people, you most likely realized pretty quickly that there is no great way to mount your phone in the car for this purpose. This is especially true, when you are not in your own car but driving a rental vehicle. AYTM was curious about whether or not consumers desired a solution to this problem. To this end, we surveyed 400 drivers who have rented a car in the past five years and used their smartphone as a navigation device. Read on to see what they had to say.

How Do I Love Thee, Smartphone? Let Me Count the Ways.

There are many good reasons for preferring to use your smartphone as your navigation device vs. factory-installed versions, standalone units, or devices provided (for a fee) from rental car companies.

  • Our phones are with us at all times
  • Google Maps (need I say more)
  • Traffic information is always up-to-date
  • Ability to use apps like Waze to crowdsource current traffic problems
  • Never have to update the maps
  • Addresses for your contacts already inputted

Many of you reading this probably used your phone this past weekend, to navigate on your Memorial Day road trip.

Help! My Phone Has Fallen And It Can’t Get Up

Now that we have established the supremacy of the smartphone as a navigation device, the issue is how to position it securely in the car so you can see the screen and hear the directions clearly. 71% of the drivers we surveyed have attempted to position their smartphone in the vehicle so it was visible to them for navigation purposes. 39% of these drivers found the task was not easy to do.

When using your phone to navigate, you have a few choices:

  • Purchase a smartphone car holder/mount (37% of respondents said they bring one with them on trips)
  • Hold your phone in your lap. (Just not a great idea. Can lead to distracted driving)
  • Put your phone in the cup holder (But, wait, where does your drink go?)
  • Have a passenger hold the phone (Note: only works if you have a passenger)
  • Find some random nook or cranny to hook the phone to. (Nooks and crannies really only work best on English muffins)

Lets talk for a minute about that first option - buying a holder. The absence of universal holders in cars has created a booming third-party market. You can spend $7.99 for a basic version up to $999 for one with the strongest magnet on planet Earth.  Amazon has over 10,000 available. Each style can make your life easier if you remember to a) keep it in the car and b) bring it with you when you will be renting a car. But there are also some drawbacks:

  • Air vent holders don’t fit in all car air vents and can reduce airflow
  • Cup holder models take up space where you might actually keep your drink and you need to look down and away from the road to see the phone
  • Window mount holders can reduce visibility, pesky suction cups can be too weak to actually keep the holder in place, and adhesive can leave residue on window
  • Magnetic holders can be expensive if you want a really strong magnet and can damage the dashboard console

Hello, Car Manufacturers, We Are Talking to You

If you are with me so far, you are probably wondering why aren’t car manufacturers doing anything to address this obvious customer pain point? In fact, 79% of the drivers we surveyed felt that the fact that there is no easy way to position a smartphone in the car for navigation purposes without a third-party holder is a problem that needs to be addressed.

For years, cars came with ashtrays and cigarette lighters to make life easier for smokers. Times changed, smoking was frowned upon and society became addicted to Starbucks -- out with the ashtrays and in with the cup holders. As the number of smart devices we own increased, so did the number of ports in cars to plug in said devices. But still no universal holder for our phones.

The issue of where to put the phone is not just about making life more convenient, it can be about life or death. Not trying to be melodramatic here, but distracted driving is a REAL problem. Juggling your phone, trying to pick your phone up after it falls to the floor, struggling to hear which exit you are supposed to take, or keeping your phone in your lap can all lead to distracted driving.

What Do We Want? Universal Car Phone Holders! When Do We Want Them? Now!

Luckily, this is a problem that has a solution and it isn’t rocket science. We asked our respondents to “Imagine that automakers have incorporated a universal, convenient smartphone holder right into the vehicle's central console/dashboard - to the right of the steering wheel”. 89% “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that this would be a good idea. Further, 44% said that having this universal holder would have a “major” or “moderate” effect on their choice of car to buy and 50% said the same regarding choice of car to rent.

We took it a step further and presented respondents with an alternate solution, asking them to “Imagine that automakers designed a shelf for smartphone that wirelessly charges it while streaming everything from its monitor to the build it car's display”. 85% “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that this would be a good idea. Further, 59% said that having this universal holder would have a “major” or “moderate” effect on their choice of car to buy and 52% said the same regarding choice of car to rent.

The Takeaway

Attention car/truck manufacturers, consumers would like universal smartphone holders to come standard in all vehicles please. This way, our personal cars as well as rental car fleets will be equipped with smartphone holders that make it easy and safe to use your phone for navigating to your destination. Cars with universal phone holders would be the preferred cars consumers would want to buy or rent. We want to live in a world where people will be saying “remember the days when you had to put your phone in the cup holder? Ha, ha, so glad we don’t have to do that anymore.”

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