Americans drive. A lot. Other countries do their fair share of driving, but the automobile is an icon of American culture right along with the cowboy. There are a billion autos on the planet and a substantial majority of them are within the United States. With that many potential consumers in search of a product which never goes out of demand, you would think more emphasis would be placed on the HMI of the vehicle. Such is not the case. By and large, automotive GUIs are sub-par on their best days and confusing or just plain bad on other days.
If I spend $200K on a Ferrari California, I fully expect and deserve a substantially more impressive GUI than what I would get in a $31K Town & Country Minivan. Instead, I get the exact same GUI in both vehicles. Granted, today’s GUIs can do things undreamt of by the designers of yesterday’s mechanical gauges, but technological improvements don’t automatically make for good design.
Integrated digital displays of speed, fuel, climate controls, GPS, mileage, seat adjustment, and light intensity have been combined with HUDs of this same information being projected on the inside of the windshield. At the 6th International Conference on Automotive User Interfaces and Interactive Vehicular Applications in 2014 there was material presented on a navigational aid system known as See-Thru 3D Volumetric HUD which could prove to be a significant improvement over existing technology.
What most consumers seem most interested in getting includes the functionality of their cellular phones. Some steps have been taken in that direction, allowing a person to essentially connect their phone to their vehicle, but the interfaces leave something to be desired. With the potentially huge market available, two companies have gotten involved that have proven they know a thing or two about design.
If you have an iPhone, you may be in luck as soon as the end of 2014 for some vehicles and early 2015 for others. Apple CarPlay is Apple’s bid on improving the automotive GUI to a level expected by consumers. It’s not an adapted GUI from an existing manufacturer-equipped system, but a designed-from-the-ground-up GUI by Apple which is incorporated into the vehicle by the manufacturer. It includes all of your phone’s functionality, making use of Siri voice, touchscreen technology and mechanical switches and knobs while allowing you to keep your eyes on the road.
Open Automotive Alliance
If, on the other hand, you have an Android device, Google has its own initiative called the . One of the advantages of the Android platform is its open development model which will allow automobile companies to more easily develop their own solutions.
Details of an actual GUI are sketchy at best, but there are dozens of car companies on board and you can bet good money that they will be trying to meet or beat anything that Apple brings to market.
Your automobile is more than just a way to get from one place to another in the 21st century. It is also an entertainment center, communications hub, mobile office and probably the most significant investment of your time and money after your home. Integrating all of that functionality in a seamless, intuitive, interesting and ergonomic way is an ongoing challenge. Finally, it is getting the attention it needs and deserves, and you can rest assured that there are some interesting an awesome innovations forthcoming in the near future.