Gone are the days of the cassette deck and CD player. Nearly every new car comes equipped with some sort of infotainment system capable of playing music from a variety of sources, directing you to your destination and, in some cases, allowing you to surf the Web.
“Today’s consumers expect their connected digital lifestyles to extend into the car and their inside and outside worlds to be aligned,” Elliot Garbus, a vice president and general manager of Intel’s automotive solutions group recently wrote.
Here’s a look at some of the top in-vehicle infotainment systems on the market today.
Audi’s MMI infotainment system is on the cutting edge. This system works with a multifunctional control knob and finger gestures. You can twist, turn and press the knob located between the front passenger seats. It features a touch-sensitive material that allows drivers to input a destination into the navigation system just by drawing out the letters with their fingers.
MMI’s navigation function uses Google satellite maps, and allows users to input their destination simply by uploading a photo. Picture this: a buddy is lost in the middle of the city. He doesn’t know where he is, and you don’t know how to get there. So you ask your friend to send you a picture of what’s nearby, upload it into MMI and, using the GPS coordinates stored in the picture file, have the system automatically direct you to your friend’s location. Neat, huh?
BMW’s iDrive was among the first infotainment systems created. iDrive was also the first to use a mouse-like knob mounted between the two front seats, and continues to rely on that layout.
While iDrive got lots of flak from auto critics in its early days for being “difficult” to use, it’s now regarded as one of the best examples of how to streamline complicated functions into a simple interface. The iDrive knob allows occupants to quickly and easily scroll through the vehicle’s menus, accessing navigation, media, settings and even the owner’s manual.
Cadillac User Experience
The CUE (short for Cadillac User Experience) infotainment system got (and still gets) lots of criticism from the automotive media, and it might be unwarranted. Unlike the Audi and BMW systems, CUE is touch-based, with the center stack featuring a touch screen, a touch slider for volume and four touch buttons on the face, all with haptic feedback. Some complain that the lack of physical buttons and knobs makes it unusable, but this system earns its spot here for being among the first to attempt to incorporate phone-like touchscreen gestures in a car while looking luxurious and upscale.
Chrysler’s Uconnect system, which is available for Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge and Ram products, is a good example of an infotainment system with a great interface. Uconnect is all about redundancy: sure, you can control and adjust your air conditioner or heated seat settings via the big touch screen mounted on the center stack, but you can also adjust the same functions using physical buttons.
Uconnect also incorporates simple, easy-to-understand screens and in some models, includes track-day functions like a g-force meter and lap timer.
Tesla Model S
The infotainment system found in the Tesla Model S is a game-changer for many reasons. First off, it’s big — laptop big. The Tesla’s 17-inch screen is the largest in the industry, and it’s also intuitive.
Anyone who has ever used a tablet would be right at home with Tesla’s system. It has features and functions that others don’t, like the same Google Maps app you can find on your smartphone and a fully functioning Web browser.
Photo by BMW.