Polestar 2 connected app — a review

and how it could be improved

Companion apps seem to be the Achilles’ heel of many companies. I wrote about this before, take a look here.

It’s one thing to buy a toothbrush and have the companion app be a bit not-so-good but when you get a multi-thousand Euro car, especially one from a technologically forerunner brand, you expect things to be great.

Let’s talk about Polestar’s companion app for their brilliant Polestar 2 car and see what has gone wrong and what could be done to remedy the situation.

Polestar 2 was launched to buyers a year ago. Almost a full year later the first version of their companion app was released as a beta release to the same customers.

The app is not exactly loved by the users.

What is the purpose of the app? Who is it for?

The connected Polestar app is not a new app, instead the connected car functionality was added to the the existing marketing-focused app as a new tab.

I’m sure there was some reason behind going this route, I just can’t think of any. The marketing app contains functionality for people thinking about buying the car, like car configurator an purchasing options.

I already own the car. I don’t think I’m the main audience for buying another at this point.

It also contains information about my order, i.e. my current car. These are things that were interesting to me when the car was in order. Not anymore.

I already have the car. Why would I need this here anymore? Especially in an app I’m using daily.

It also has some content for owners in form of tutorial videos and news. Unfortunately the “for you” is not so much for me as it is just a generic section of content. Showing an iOS tutorial to me when I’m on Android tells me that this is just a generic web page wrapped into an app.

Thanks, but I’m on Android. The phone this app is currently running is not an iOS device!

My suggestion for improvements

Polestar should split out a dedicated connected app to focus fully on need of people who own and use the car. All the other stuff is making the app difficult to use and bloated. You can only create great usability if you know who you’re building for and who your users are. Trying to build something for everyone leads into the software not being great for anyone.

Design

There might be some big plans that we’re not seeing yet but at the time of writing this the current app design is a bit strange. It doesn’t look like an Android app, nor does it look like an iOS app. It doesn’t feel like it belongs to either of the platforms.

It doesn’t quite look like the in-car system either.

It’s not like the app was rushed together or built by an incompetent team. There’s some visual cues from Polestar branding as well as some transition work.

Some of the transitions make sense, some not so much.

My suggestion for improvements

When you build companion apps, you have to bring your brand to the platform you making the apps for without overriding how people expect apps to work. In its current form the Polestar app doesn’t look or feel like it belongs to either mobile platform. For a companion app to be great, it must be an Android app on Android and an iOS app on iOS! Your app is part of the user’s phone, it must live among many other apps the user uses daily and look and feel familiar. This is not to say that you can’t bring your brand to the app. You can and you should. Here is where skilled mobile designers can help you to get things right!

Digital key functionality

In theory, you can use your phone as a key for your Polestar. In reality, it is so unreliable that you’ll have to keep your key with you anyways making the feature useless. If the car doesn’t open 100% of the time, users won’t risk getting stranded somewhere due to failure in the Bluetooth connection.

My suggestion for improvements

Polestar built their own system instead of using the car key features from Google and Apple. This is likely due to the Google and Apple APIs being introduced when the Polestar development was already on the way. I hope the Polestar team does the right thing and switches using the provided APIs instead, hopefully making this feature useful.

One of my pet peeves on Android is misuse of notification icons. Especially when a system needs a background service which runs all the time. It is important that the icon being used identifies the app, and not trying to show a state of the application itself. The icon is shown in context of the user’s phone, not the app and therefore has to be recognisable without the app context.

My suggestion for improvements

Instead of using the generic lock symbol, use a Polestar logo to identify the long running background service.

Error handling

Networking is hard. Things go wrong. Especially when trying to connect two mobile to each other. It is super important that error situations are handled well to keep users happy.

One of the better error messages of the app.

My suggestion for improvements

An error message needs to help me understand exactly what went wrong and how to remedy the situation. A good error message gives the user direct access to the possible fix. Let’s look at couple of error messages I’ve ran into while using the app:

Never blame the user! It’s not “my” request, it’s the app. Rephrase this to not to include “your” and provide a direct retry button. Even better, explain exactly what request it was. Techies understand what a “request” is but normal users might be confused with the term.
What functionality was that? Tell exactly what failed.
Is this an error? Why do you let me try to do something that I can’t do? Show it in the controls directly. “Car in use, controls disabled” and don’t let me press them.
This is the most annoying ones I’ve seen so far. “Use the touch screen in the car” is a very wide definition. If you want me to do something, tell me exactly what! For this to be improved, I’d add a link to “show me how” page or something similar.

Beta.

I’m quite harsh. I’m expecting a lot. A lot was promised.

The app is in beta and the Polestar team is working on it. I do feel, however, that some fundamentals are not quite on track. Dedicated connected app and proper mobile design are things that should be part of the very first release, even on beta.

The app is very limited at the moment and a lot of basic functionality is missing. I do not want to go into those details as I feel that would be unfair. They’re working on adding the missing functionality and I have no reason to doubt that they’ll be able to deliver.

Anyways, with improvements, there is a good chance that in some months we might have a great app in our hands.

A closing thought about connected car apps

This is less about the Polestar app but more about all connected car apps in general. I think there is a fundamental issue in how car companies see their connected apps and their place in the ecosystem.

A car is a tool. A tool to get you and your family from place A to place B. While some users spend considerable amount of time in their cars it’s not the centre of their digital life. Nowadays, users’ digital lives are centred around their smart phones.

When thinking about connected apps we should not think about the car extending to a phone but instead think it as the user’s phone, and their digital ecosystem, extending to the car. Car manufacturers need to be willing to let go part of their identity and control to make their connected apps fit the user’s phone. It doesn’t mean that they should forego all branding, not at all! Visuals, branding should come from the brand. The app should look like it is created by the brand. But it should work like a mobile app on the platform it is running on.

Car manufacturers should make sure that their connected app teams are proactively bringing their platform knowledge into the design process. Utilising the power of Android’s intent system and fantastic notification management and alike should be key knowledge when thinking how to extend the user’s phone into the car.

This is an opinion piece by Juhani, CEO of Snapp Automotive a company building Android Automotive OS software and founder of Snapp Mobile. Some portions of the post might not reflect the opinions of the companies.