BMW have announced the next generation of their respected iDrive control and infotainment system to be rolled out on all classes starting with the BMW iX and then i4, and as expected screens dominate the experience. Not quite as prolific as Mercedes-Benz’s EQS Hyperscreen system which runs the length of the dashboard, BMW seem to have taken a pragmatic approach combining touchscreens with other options on how to converse with the technology.
And that human-computer conversation is how BMW would like you think about it, marketing the same approach and philosophy as every other automaker in a reduction of buttons and controls and more reliance on voice, touchscreens, and machine learning. This starts before the driver even enters the car with what BMW are calling “Great Entrance Moments” with a choreographed routine in an attempt to draw some kind of emotional connection of the driver and vehicle. Gimmick? Perhaps, but such is the changing nature of automobiles as a product, rightly or wrongly we are going to see more of this sort of thing.
The screen itself runs behind the steering wheel and off to the centre of the dash with a curve that is aimed more at the driver than passenger, grouping together the 12.3-inch information display and 14.9-inch control display which merge together as one. BMW state that by pre-filtering information the driver has only the information relevant at that point in time.
There are three layouts to choose from (so far). The Drive layout delivers a dynamically changing area in the centre of the information display to show individually selectable information. The Focus layout is meant for what BMW call “extremely dynamic driving situations” or what we’ll call “Chris Harris mode”. Finally, the Gallery layout reduces as much of the information to make room for widget content.
The My Modes function creates different experiences depending on what you’re doing at any given time. Using data provided, online information, and fleet information BMW iDrive can respond in different ways to assist and provide a personalised experience. It can also be used to store settings such as drive system and transmission control, steering characteristics and chassis settings. Depending of which My Mode you are in, the sound of the engine/motor alters too although this sounds more like generated sound changes than a by-pass valve opening up.
There’s still full integration of Apple CarPlay or Android Auto for peeps wanting that mobile experience.
BMW are keen to highlight BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant and how they’ve developed a more human graphical approach when interacting. There’s a “face” of sorts that is essentially spheres of light at differing sizes and brightness levels and of course it learns and responds better the more you use it.
Like most products designed around the world recently, BMW seem to see minimalism as a metric for successful design, yet rather that completely remove all buttons, they have reduced them by almost half. The biggest saving grace for BMW’s iDrive has to be the retention of the iDrive Controller in its traditional position on the centre console.
Function keys located on the steering wheel also operate some screen options such as individualisation and other menus.
Climate control however is all on the touchscreen as BMW believe they have cracked the code of what the ideal pre-set configuration is based on 440 million customer journeys across all model classes and regions of the world. After setting a target temperature for each climate zone the “intelligent climate control automatically regulates and operates all the available features itself.” One thing is for sure we are a fickle bunch us humans and I’m not convinced leaving climate comfort in the hands of a system basing its decisions on prior interaction will result in a great experience.
That challenge of connecting with customers is only going to get more difficult in electric cars as brands are forced to rely on establishing an emotional connection with the machine through visual means and to a much lesser extent sound, with dings, dongs, and theatrical low speed sounds. The things to touch, push, pull, turn, and slide in the cabin have been greatly diminished, along with the audial feedback from the engine and vibrations accompanying it. No wonder they are investing heavily in screens and connectivity.
Does it create a better driving experience? In some instances yes where information is useful on a large display, but many other instances no. What it does do is make the car a better product. This isn’t about getting from A to B or the experience of driving, more the experience of the product.