A revolution is underway in the auto industry. Vehicle powertrains are finally shifting towards electrification. Automakers are working on having cars drive themselves. But other changes are afoot. Inside our cars, we’re witnessing a tech transition away from the traditional car interior.
Above: A look at the tech-heavy, trailblazing interior of the original Tesla Model S (Source: Tesla)
As tech becomes increasingly prevalent in our day-to-day lives, vehicle interior designers are ditching the old mish-mash of buttons, dials, and switches. In their place are iPad-like monolithic screens that take up prime real estate on the dash.
Having a screen as part of your dashboard isn’t new. After all, taking care of things like music choice and navigation have often been “embedded” inside a screen of some sort. That said, take a look at almost any electric concept car that’s slated to come out in the next few years. Almost every one features massive screens replacing the old-school, traditional gauge cluster.
With all sorts of smart devices becoming commonplace, consumers are more aware of tech shortcomings in their lives. We carefully consider the software experience when choosing our next phone or computer. So how important is a competent and sleek-looking UI in a car buyer’s purchasing decision? Very.
Electric cars are transitioning the auto industry away from analog-like gasoline engines to more digital-like electric power. It seems a sort of digital iphonification is happening inside cars as well. Appealing to people’s technophilia has become mission-critical in the auto industry.
If you have a poor user interface or bad responsiveness, doing anything (outside of driving the car) becomes a chore at best and a headache-inducing hurdle at worst. As automakers place the majority of a car’s functions locked behind touchscreens, it’s now on them to create software that doesn’t make owners wish that they never had a screen in the first place. As a stretch goal, it should also look good.
Above: From the phone UI to the center console UI, technology is becoming an increasingly important component of car ownership (Source: Tesla)
The user interface (UI) is becoming as much of a part of the interior as the seats or the steering wheel. The UI is quickly becoming the centerpiece of the interior — it better look good. Design of course is subjective. But in the future, it might benefit automakers to at least have a software experience that is unique to them. We previewed the UI of the upcoming Ford Mustang Mach-E and it will not be everyone’s cup of tea. But, to their credit, it looks usable and distinct to the brand.
That said, you can’t talk tech without mentioning Tesla. Elon Musk’s car company has showcased endless possibilities related to a vehicle’s infotainment system. Tesla’s software engineering creativity is always on display. Tesla owners have a digital whoopie cushion, drawing program, music production software, streaming services, and full-fledged video games — just to name a few cool features.
Has anyone purchased a Tesla for the sole purpose of watching Netflix in their car? Probably not. However when someone is deciding between two cars — even the smallest things can swing preference one way or another. So an in-car theater might be enough to sway a car buyer.
One thing is for sure, automakers will have to start bolstering their vehicle software and UI teams. It will soon be unacceptable to deliver cars with sub-par user experiences and glitchy software.
Tesla, for instance, has already begun expanding their software development team. In this case, it’s Tesla games, but where this new norm will take us really knows no bounds. And the Silicon Valley automaker recently released a YouTube series of video vignettes showcasing some of their innovative in-car tech (see examples below).
In any event, will we look at today’s vehicle software in 20 years the same way we look at MS-DOS systems currently? With how fast things are progressing, it’s crazy to think about it — but that just might be the case.
A sampling of Tesla’s tech
An earlier version of this article appeared on EVBite. EVBite is an electric vehicle specific news site dedicated to keeping consumers up-to-date on any developments in the ever-expanding EV landscape. Photos / Videos: Tesla