Touchscreen Infotainment Systems Coming to BMWs

In the latest episode of White Roof Radio, we dedicated some time talking about the state of current infotainment systems. Needless to say it is not great, but seeing a number of established technology companies and smaller players entering the space makes us believe there’s hope for a brighter future. In the meantime, car companies continue to develop their offering and it appears that BMW might complement the interior design of its models with touchscreens sooner rather than later.

Yesterday, Autocar published a series of quotes from Adrian van Hooydonk, BMW Group Director of Design regarding the possible addition of touchscreens to BMW’s infotainment system. From his perspective, touchscreens will be progressively appearing in BMW cars, starting with “i” models, in the form of curved surfaces that will complement the existing rotary controller.

These direct quotes from Adrian van Hooydonk are exciting because they confirm what our sources have been telling us for the past four years: the BMW Group is working on touchscreen technology and it will become available in BMWs and MINIs in the future. Stepping back and looking at what BMW also announced at CES, drivers will soon be able to interact with an infotainment system through a combination of voice, gesture and touch controls. However, it is difficult to say at this point if such a mix of technologies will gain traction among buyers given the steep learning this might represent for non-technology savvy individuals.

While the MINI and BMW labs must be working on fascinating ways to make our lives better, I question the use of curved touchscreens. It’s not that curved touchscreens don’t make sense, but touchscreens in cars – regardless of the car brand – have been pretty terrible so far compared to what’s found on Apple devices. So the move to curved touchscreens, while Apple has yet to release a fully curved-glass device, is quite “unexpected.”

PS: I know that touchscreen electronics exist beside the realm of Apple devices, but let’s be honest, Apple’s are best-in-class when it comes to consumer products.

  • We get it, you love Apple, but Apple touchscreens certainly aren’t best in their class and the screen of the MS Surface Pro 3 is far superior in every respect while Wacom drawing tablets blow the rest of the industry out of the water.

    That aside, the REAL problem with touchscreens in cars has nothing to do with image panel quality or touch accuracy, but rather that you have to look away from the road to use them. Without a means to allow users to identify controls by touch, touch screens will remain more dangerous than dedicated controls. This is an area where even Tesla’s otherwise wonderful 17″ touch screen falls down and becomes practically impossible to use while driving; thus forcing you to either look at the screen or resort to voice commands.

    • Kevin Bartlett

      Apple vs. Microsoft aside (that’s a religious argument anyway) Touchscreens have yet to be done right in cars, and I’m doubtful they ever will. My hand is moving, the screen is moving, inertia plays havoc with both and I can’t hit the right button without concentrating…..not just looking…..which is the real problem. Concentrate on driving, a physical buttons location if large enough can be put into muscle memory, and it has tactile feedback which although can be reproduced isn’t practical to do. They should keep trying, but I don’t want to buy a car to keep trying with them, I’ll keep some real buttons thanks.

      • SF dede

        Tactus is working on a solution. I played with an early prototype. Cool stuff.

      • It’s not ideal I agree. However consumers are demanding it given their relationships with their other personal devices.

        Btw if you want to see who’s doing it right, check out the new (can’t believe I’d ever say this) Volvo XC90 that comes out late this year.

        • R.O.

          “However consumers are demanding it given their relationships with their other personal devices.”

          And therein lies the problem (consumers demanding) when it comes to Tech, phones, twitter, facebook, feeds, etc, etc.

          The Industry, Tech Companies and alike are the ones telling consumers what they “should be demanding” and “what they need”. (example: people waiting in line for days just for the “hottest” new cell phone)

          So many people are poor drivers already (at least in the USA), they don’t need more useless tech to distract them and lead them to be even worse drivers. What Drivers “need” is to focus on the road, car control and driving. This applies to non tech distractions too such as: eating, drinking or whatever other non driving useless things people are doing.

          What people in the USA should be “demanding” is that a person wanting to get a drivers license has to go through same requirements as in Germany. Certified driving school that includes theoretical and practical lessons and high % to pass tests. No private teaching (i.e. mom, dad, uncle, brother, next door neighbor, family dog).

        • SF Dede

          Agree with you.

          But that is like asking BMW to bring the 1er hatch to the US or ask MINI to make a Clubman w/o barn doors ( how are you going to open those when somebody is parked close behind you? The test should be that doors open clear regardless of hatch or barn with an obstruction within a certain distance behind….) But I digress. Significantly.

    • donburnside

      We get it, you love Apple

      You, Mr. MCSRallye, are my hero.

    • adam

      Wacom may make the best drawing tablets in the business, but that is only because there are so few in the business. They have rested on their laurels and now enjoy the benefits of having edged out their competition long ago, when niche market products like graphics tablets were more profitable. Wacom currently produces some of the most over priced gadgets in the tech space when you consider a medium sized Intuos drawing tablet costs just as much as an iPad. The Intuos is twice as thick, has no screen, no internal computer and is made entirely of plastic and rubber. Even still, all of this would be OK (since its uses are so trade specific) if it weren’t for the fact that Wacom has not been able to develop a solid driver for Macs (which remain graphic artists’ main platform) for years now. It is honestly a joke, the stronghold Wacom has, and the liberties they have to charge whatever they want for subpar products. If they spent half as much on their software development as they do on their marketing, I’d be amazed.

  • Gary

    Just imagine the fingerprints…

  • RakSiam

    Spoken like a true member of the cult. 🙂

  • birddog2

    My information may be old and out of date, but my 2014 Jeep w/touch screen is MUCH better than the joy stick deal on my 2012 MINI and I think the MINI system requires more attention to the screen than the touch screen does.

    • From a quantitative POV touch screens operated by drivers require more of the brain’s processing power.

      • birddog2

        Am just reporting my personal experience with the two systems I use. The MINI system is more difficult to use and requires me to look at the screen just as much to verify where I am in the long process of selecting the info or program that I want to access

      • SF Dede

        And line of sight. You have to look down and away from the road. Might as well look at your phone and text….

    • R.O.

      Many car makers don’t allow driver to use touch screen while vehicle is in Drive, Only when it’s in park.

  • R.O.

    “but let’s be honest, Apple’s are best-in-class when it comes to consumer products.” Oh

    Oh pleeeaseee – stop it. 🙂

    • Eric

      That is the truth though

      • It certainly isn’t. There are lots of better touchscreens out there that are better looking and more accurate than Apples. The problem is that they are attached to devices that either cost a lot (Wacom drawing tablets) or are “uncool” (Microsoft Surface Pro 3 is essentially a work laptop replacement).

        • Eric

          You are maybe right but customers don’t care about hardware, it’s mostly a matter of software

  • MikeUK

    Camera companies and photographers know the value of dedicated buttons on DSLR’s so the user doesn’t lose focus on what they are doing when changing settings. And that’s just taking photographs, not operating dangerous machinery.

    I often get a wave from other MINI owners as we pass (even in the saturated south east of England) but so often their eyes are facing down to their lap, undoubtedly using a mobile phone.

    I agree with Kevin; muscle memory removes the need to think when operating controls, and any form of screen is an unwanted distraction.

  • The reason I didn’t comment on the possible distractions that a touchscreen would bring, is because my thinking is based on a different UI/UX paradigm than the one found in mobile computing devices. So far, everything single brand that has released a touchscreen infotainment system has failed.

    They have failed because they simply tried to replicate how consumers use touchscreens on their phones and tablets, which is great when you’re walking down the street or sitting at your desk, but just doesn’t work when you need to focus on the road ahead. Successful design starts with the customer experience in mind and works back to the technology. What car manufacturers have done so far is replacing all buttons on the center stack with poor quality touchscreens. They didn’t even bother rethinking the UX. As an example, when iOS was first released, it wasn’t a tiny version of OS X. It was a brand new OS specifically designed for a mobile device in a mobile world, despite the fact that its internals were based on OS X.

    From the comments I’ve read here so far, everyone appears to be thinking the same way car makers do. And you’re right, the way touchscreens in cars are currently designed fails to bring the driver the right interaction while allowing him/her to do what they are supposed to do; watching the road instead of making sure they touched the right spot on a screen.

    Now if you step back and think about all the things we’ve learned to do thanks to multi-touch gestures, it seems straightforward to me that a touchscreen-based infotainment system that doesn’t require the attention of the driver could be designed. The hardware exists, it’s the innovative software experience that is missing. And I’m fairly sure a freelance designer somewhere has already thought about this.

    As far as Apple is concerned, some of you are correct, MotoringFile is not the platform for sharing my admiration for this company. However, when pointing out that their phones and tablets have set the standard in the consumer space, it has nothing to do with being a fanboy, it’s a fact and a $726.81B market cap is backing this up. Wacom tablets are great for graphic designers and digital illustrators, while Microsoft Surface devices have other problems beside being “uncool” (which I don’t think they are by the way). A teacher, a doctor, or a movie director doesn’t choose an iPad because it’s cool, but because it works.

    • The reason that I brought up Wacom is because it’s a an elegant device with specific user interactions in mind; using one is intuitive and frictionless. Intuitive design and frictionless use are two essential qualities that are sorely lacking in the automotive infotainment systems.

      Infotainment is already a $3 billion dollar a year sub-industry within the automotive sector (and growing every year), but the lack of progress is simply stunning. Watching demos of Harman’s implementation of CarPlay and Android Auto makes it clear that and nobody is on the right track as of yet and they are continuing to approach the problem from the smartphone and tablet paradigm.

      • It’s worse than just that. The car companies are doing thier branding via the poorly designed user interface, and the corporate inertia one has to overcome to convince the marketing department that the touch points in the cabin branding has to change because the design sucks is huge. That’s admitting a huge amount of both tech and marketing budget is going down the crapper, not even leaving skid marks, and it’s all written off. It’s a rare executive that will make that call!

      • Gigi

        CarPlay seems to address a lot of issue. minimalist fonction , no distraction, voice command and iPhone disable while connected.

    • You’re missing one basic problem. Touchscreens have no landmarks. While the hint at multi-touch to let the user do things is a nice idea, but just like the other poster who said the MINI wheel doesn’t work because you have to look at the screen to see if your command was properly executed.

      Old school design had the feedback baked in: If the button press failed, you didn’t get the AC or whatever on. With these nested interface designs, many of the actions are navigating to the actual function, and short of a system that tells you what you’ve done verbally, you’ll have to look to see if you’re getting the desired result or navigated the proper path through the interface layers.

      But this is just a problem for a bit, when voice recognition gets a bit better, we’ll just be talking to the car and most of this debate will become moot.

      But there is a fundamental problem that underlies all of this: What the driver wants, to drive, and to be connected, all with ease, may be a mutually exclusive set of goals. One can make the case that no matter what the tech, if one is fully connected to several asynchronous channels (Facebook, Twitter, e-mail and text are four easy examples), one cannot be fully focused on driving.

      Improved tech may reduce this fundamental conflict, but it will never go away.

      Oh, and one more thing….. Check out behavioral economics. Turns out “A teacher, a doctor, or a movie director doesn’t choose an iPad because it’s cool, but because it works” isn’t really true. “Predictibly Irrational” by Dan Ariely is a great read and is very enjoyable.

      • 100% with you on voice recognition.

        As far as choice of tablet is concerned, I’ll make sure to read Dan Ariely’s book (just added to my Amazon queue), but I disagree with what you said.

        I used the example of the teacher (my mother), the doctor (my father) and the movie director (a close friend) because those are cases that I experienced first-hand. The cool factor was definitely at the bottom of their respective lists.

        Anyway, I’m trolling myself here. The brand of tablet debate is not the one I wanted to have with this post…

        • Hi Alex. I have not met a single person who has learned about Behavioral Economics that hasn’t had a paradigm shift in how they view the motivating actions of people. A lot of time, we don’t do what we do because of the reasons that we think we do. It will be interesting to see what your response is to Dans book. But that’s off topic.

          I really think that has to do with the fact that what the customer is demanding isn’t a possible deliverable. So the car companies offer up more an more connectivity to get sales, and it’s left to guys like the head of NHTSA to fight the distracted driver fight.

          And he’s losing….