When BMW brought iDrive into the world it was shunned. Then every other German automaker hopped on board the control knob bandwagon. Now we're in an era of touchscreens, with BMW and Audi holding out. And then there was one.
BMW showed off a very subtly redesigned version of its iDrive interface at CES, and the biggest change is the addition of a capacitive touchscreen. The iDrive knob is still around, but now you can reach out and touch things – the best of both worlds.
There's nothing particularly mind-blowing about the integration – it doesn't get much more basic than pointing – but BMW also added a proximity sensor. When the driver reaches to enter a phone number, a keypad appears; if they're trying to punch in address, a keyboard pops up.
The Germans have been holding off on touchscreen integration for a while, citing a lack of tactile feedback and being forced to position the screen further away from the driver's line of sight. BMW doesn't seem to be bothered with that anymore, and it's taking it one step further with gesture controls.
If the driver positions her hand in one particular zone above the iDrive controller and in front of the screen, a 3D sensor mounted in the roof can detect the movements of her hand and fingers. When a call comes in, the driver points at the screen to accept or swipes to the right to ignore it. She can also change the volume control by twisting her wrist or point at the screen with two fingers to automatically set the navigation to home.
That's the extent of the functionality for now, which seems pretty reserved, even for BMW. If our tea leaves are to be believed, we'll see the touchscreen system in the next 7 Series and maybe the gesture controls will come along for the ride, too.