The Future of Car Interfaces Begin To Appear

Apple CarPlay

Earlier this morning Apple announced CarPlay, it’s plan to integrate iOS like functionality into cars. The system is actually an extension of the iPhone itself, allowing you to easier use some of the features the phone has to offer. Out of the gate you’re able to, with the help of Siri, make phone calls, answer texts, put on music, or get directions. Kind of the standard things you do while driving.

A few weeks back we also saw Matthaeus Krenn’s innovative idea of what a car human interface could be, pushing boundaries using unique touch gestures. I feel like we’re starting to see a trend here, and it makes me wonder if car user interfaces will be the next weather app?

For a while there it was quite the thing to create your own weather app, putting a slick coat of paint over some rather easy to get data. For a while there was a plethora of options, though it seems like new options are slowing down with a few big contenders (Dark Sky, Yahoo Weather) leading the pack. I’m hoping that we see the same shift towards car human interfaces. The more ideas out there the better the ecosystem will be. Plus designing car UIs is pretty damn sexy, don’t you think?

Apple CarPlay

Getting into the details, I find it interesting (but not surprising) that Apple took such a simple approach. They focused on what they’re good at and made sure they got it right the first time, which to me is reminiscent of the iPhone’s launch. Full Siri integration is definitely the way to go, leaving you with your hands on the wheel and not fidgeting with knobs or buttons, though you can use the touch screen if desired. Does this leave CarPlay as a simple V1 for further integration down the line? They could certainly include options like climate controls, rearview cameras, cruise control, etc. coming in further versions. Or maybe they wont? Perhaps it’s strictly “infotainment” and they leave the car manufacturer to handle the rest?

It also makes me think of the whispers of Apple and Tesla recently meeting. Obviously only a few people actually know what was spoken about, but it gets me wondering if Apple were to make an aggressive move and join the auto industry, that they would certainly pick a company like Tesla. They have the same spirit, one of innovation, a commitment to craft, and blowing up any sort of established markets. And if such a deal did happen, I think that’s where you’d see a full integration of Apple tech into an automobile. Yes please to Jonny Ive designing a car interior.

Matthaeus Krenn's Car Touch Interface

On the flip side, Matthaeus Krenn’s gesture based car interface is an interesting concept. It uses multi-finger controls to adjust climate controls and the music with the hopes that you don’t have to look at what you’re doing, you simply remember the gestures. I’ve seen some people wonder if the gestures are too complex, but I personally believe it would become intuitive reasonably fast, though I don’t think there’s a way for you to not be able to look at the screen.

And it’s certainly sexy, giving off an almost Minority Report-esque vibe, but I think the fact that you still have to touch an interface limits the it’s future potential. We’re slowly but surely getting to the point of being able to tell our devices what we want and they accurately understand. You’ve already seen it in Star Trek and Her, it’s the way we’re moving forward. Still, you should watch the video below, it’s a beautiful example of touch UI.

As I mentioned earlier, I hope we start seeing more interesting UIs like these popping up with more frequency. If voice, not touch commands, are the future of human interfaces, then how does a display react accordingly? There are the beginnings of this idea in Siri and Google’s voice technology, as well as in more speculative examples like Her, but the concepts are still in their infancy and we have an exciting road ahead.

March 3, 2014