‘Big is better’ is definitely the mantra for car touchscreens these days. So much so that manufacturers launch ‘new’ models where the biggest change is a bigger touchscreen. While most credit Steve Jobs for bringing touchscreens to our life, allow me to introduce you to the Buick Riviera, which debuted a 9-inch Graphic Control Center (GCC) in 1986. The Riviera featured a green-and-black cathode-ray- tube screen display, which was considered cutting-edge back then.
While the Americans denounced the touchscreen, criticising it as an unsafe feature, the Japanese picked up the mantle and pioneered much of what we see now, both in terms of looks and the functions they offered. The 1990 Mazda Eunos Cosmo was the first series-produced car equipped with touchscreen-based navigation. Other Japanese manufacturers like Toyota and Mitsubishi also started offering touchscreen-based navigation and music systems in a handful of their models during the early 1990s.
The screens back then, were an inch or two wide, and were restricted to high-end cars. Things picked up pace after smartphones started becoming ubiquitous in the early 2000s, and people started getting used to the pocket-sized touchscreen on their mobiles. Carmakers and consumer electronics brands realised that touch was the next frontier. Nowadays, cars at every price point, shape, and size come with at least one kind of touchscreen, and the future is 4K bright. We look at some of the dazzling touchscreens on offer in cars in India, and some others that will set a new benchmark for cars.
Making its debut as an option in the new EQS from Mercedes-EQ, the Hyperscreen is rightly called a ‘jewel of interior design’ by the German luxury brand. Beneath one 56-inch, gently curved piece of glass, three separate displays merge to look like a single entity. Integrated ambient lighting gives MBUX Hyperscreen a floating appearance on top of the dashboard. The clear and minimalist design helps give EQS passengers intelligent access to available and suggested functions at any given time, while the brightness adapts to the lighting conditions within the interior. Non-controlled image pixels remain switched off, so they appear deep black, while active OLED pixels shine with a high colour brilliance.
MBUX Hyperscreen boasts impressive computing power: Eight CPU cores, 24 gigabytes of RAM, and 46.4 gigabytes per second RAM memory bandwidth are among the impressive technical highlights. Twelve actuators are located under the touchscreen surfaces to provide haptic feedback. Using artificial intelligence, the display and operating system can adapt completely to the user for a range of personalised suggestions, control, and entertainment. Mercedes Benz claims the MBUX Hyperscreen is truly customer centric, and has much higher levels of connectivity, enabling new forms of interactivity and individuality. It is only a matter of time that we will see the Hyperscreen debut in other Mercedes models, and perhaps become the benchmark for touchscreens in cars.
We know BMWs are the preferred choice of movie stars, and the Bavarian brand is bringing the movie experience to their cars. BMW Theatre Screen is a 31-inch ultra- wide panorama display in 32:9 format with a resolution of up to 8K. This super cool screen will be fully integrated with Amazon Fire TV, allowing passengers to stream their favourite movies, TV series, and music while travelling. The catch for now is it needs 5G connectivity. The Theatre Screen is more than just a screen and streaming system though; it basically transforms the rear cabin into a complete home theatre on wheels — the blinds close, the light slowly dims, and the screen glides out of the headliner with a Hans Zimmer composed symphony playing on the integrated Bowers & Wilkins Diamond Surround Sound System. iX, the new electric SUV from BMW, will be the first model to get the BMW Theatre Screen as an option.
Only a few hallowed brands can match what Porsche offers in terms of performance, but the German sportscar maker has been a bit behind the curve on touchscreens. The Taycan, Porsche’s first fully electric car, in that sense, is a big step forward for the company. The sporty Taycan has a beautiful 16.8-inch curved display ahead of the driver that can be configured to display various functions, be it navigation maps or your music playlist. A central 10.9-inch infotainment display and an optional passenger display are combined to form an integrated glass band in a black- panel look, which looks stunning. For the first time, front passengers in the Taycan have the option of their own touch display, allowing them to easily alter settings without distracting the driver. The elevated centre console features a large 8.4-inch touch panel with haptic feedback. This allows the air-conditioning settings to be altered directly. Integrated handwriting recognition also allows quick address inputs. The three screens, combined, give the Taycan impressive modern look and feel, as compared to older Porsche models.
While the elder and electric sibling, EQS, gets the Hyperscreen, the new generation C-Class has inherited the interior and touchscreens from the current generation S-class. The new C-Class comes with an 11.9-inch portrait-oriented touchscreen infotainment system and a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, which is the largest in the segment. The infotainment screen features the latest version of the MBUX infotainment system (NTG7). Tilted slightly towards the driver, the big screen and the MBUX system is logically laid out. The climate control settings stay fixed at the bottom of the screen, regardless of the functions selected in the top half, so quick changes to the fan speed and temperature can easily be executed. A capacitive touch bar under the screen toggles between the drive modes, and there is even a biometric fingerprint scanner, which supports up to seven user profiles.
Designers and engineers at Audi initially created the urbansphere concept for use in traffic-dense Chinese megacities and, naturally, realised this is not a China- specific problem. Most big cities suffer from a lack of personal space, and the car can be more than just a mode of travel. Everything has been designed inside out, with comfort and luxury for passengers as the focus. Four individual seats in two rows offer luxurious, first-class comfort, and allow you to swivel. In Relax and Entertain modes, choosing to recline the backrest by up to 60 degrees simultaneously raises the leg rests. When passengers want to use the infotainment system together in the urban sphere, there is a large-format and transparent OLED screen that pivots vertically from the roof area into the zone between the rows of seats. Using this ‘cinema screen’, which occupies the entire width of the interior, the two passengers in the back row can take part in a video conference together or watch a movie. Even split-screen use is possible. When the screen is not in use, it offers a clear view into the front thanks to its transparent design or, when folded upwards, through the glass roof area to the sky.
With combustion engines disappearing, it is no surprise that consumer electronic companies are keen to enter the EV mobility space. LG presented the Omnipod concept at CES 2022, an ambitious take on how screens will play a vastly increased role in vehicles. Like many futuristic car concepts, LG’s Omnipod is filled with screens. Not just the dash or front panels, like a regular car, but even the sides and the ceiling of this concept car are screens. LG calls it an ‘expansive tunnel screen’ or ‘Meta-environment screen’, where the car aims to immerse the passengers in a virtual environment. The screen, which stretches from the floor to the ceiling, features modes like home, work, cinema, where the screens all help you set the mood and play content. This though is just a concept, the question is how much is too much of screen even for the most avid touchscreen fans.