It's Kind Of Crazy Movable Center Screens Aren't A Thing In Cars

Illustration: Jason Torchinsky

By now, a large screen in the center of the dashboard — what automotive geeks call a center stack screen — is pretty much expected in every modern car. This screen is designed to be used by both driver and, if present, a passenger. It’s where the media/radio controls are as well as a nav map, and, if your carmaker hates you just a little bit, air conditioning and heating controls. At the moment, no mainstream car has a center stack screen that can be oriented more to the driver or passenger at will, and I think that’s kind of nuts. I’ll explain.

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The driver and passenger can have very different demands of this center screen and, as a result, an optimal interface and abilities would be different for each of them. Drivers need to pay attention to, you know, driving, while a passenger can kill time in any number of ways.

That’s why some cars are starting to introduce secondary screens, just for the passenger, where they can watch Netflix or hate-scroll through Twitter or enter complex navigation directions — or adjust the temperature up and down within half a degree over and over again. The fancy-ass new Jeep Grand Wagoneer does this:

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Photo: Jeep
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Really, though, that’s kind of wasteful and insane — there’s another huge screen just inches away. There’s a better, and I suspect cheaper way to do this, a way that offers more options as well: just make the center screen a bit movable.

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Illustration: Jason Torchinsky

This wouldn’t have to be some crazy engineering achievement, either: remember, Apple was selling an iMac that did this 18 years ago. It’s not a big deal.

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Photo: Apple
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A simple swivel arm would do the trick and allow for a lot of added convenience with a crucial addition: With the use of some simple sensors to detect when the screen is at either its maximum-passenger or maximum-driver positions, features and interfaces can be opened up to allow for a better experience for everyone.

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Illustration: Jason Torchinsky
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When the screen detects it’s in the passenger-only position, all of the features that are normally locked out while driving — like entering new destinations in the nav — are unlocked. This would let a passenger alter or enter new navigation directions and then replace the screen to a position the driver can see, all while the car is still in motion.

Or, if the passenger wants to watch movies or read books or webpages or whatever, those normally locked-when-driving features could be made available when the screen is in the passenger-only orientation.

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Conversely, if the screen is in driver-only orientation, the interface can switch to a simplified, one-screen, menuless UI that shows the driver just what they need, with easy one-touch access to radio, HVAC, nav maps and turns, etc., perhaps customizable by the driver.

This could save the driver the potentially dangerous hassle of having to navigate menus while driving to, say, redirect air to the windshield or footwell or change media inputs or whatever.

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If you don’t like a swivel design, the same basic idea could be accomplished with a screen that slides on a linear track, too:

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Illustration: Jason Torchinsky
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Either way, or any other novel way, can work. As long as there’s some sort of contact that can trigger the passenger or driver-only modes, the screen can move however designers want.

This really isn’t a complex idea, but it seems much more flexible and simple than adding more and more screens. Sure, it could potentially encourage petty fighting where the screen gets whipped back and forth by childish passengers and drivers, but if that’s the case then the two of them should take this as a sign that it’s time to grow the fuck up already.

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Maybe there are crash-safety regulations that prevent this? Maybe? But these are just rotating or sliding. If it’s on a swivel, it wouldn’t physically be in either driver or passenger head-slamming area, and if it slides, it wouldn’t be any different than instrument-cluster or passenger-side screens. I’m not buying that excuse.

So, there you go, automakers: another great idea for you. You guys really should throw me a parade or something one of these days.

Senior Editor, Jalopnik • Running: 1973 VW Beetle, 2006 Scion xB, 1990 Nissan Pao, 1991 Yugo GV Plus, 2020 Changli EV • Not-so-running: 1973 Reliant Scimitar, 1977 Dodge Tioga RV (also, buy my book!)

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DISCUSSION

How about no screens! It’s *way* easier to do these things safely (without looking at stuff other than the road) when you have physical controls. Voice recognition doesn’t count, cars are loud and computers are still very stupid.