Car shows suck. The artificial lights, fake smiles, gimmicky technology and trendy product reveals make you want to vomit the €10 extra-small hot dog you bought earlier from a bratwurst stand. But within the overwhelming sea of engineering status symbols there is some genuine innovation and clever interface design. I came to the largest automotive show in the world to find out.
Here is my countdown of the top 9.
#9 | Byton M-Byte
At the top of the list is the M-Byte, named after a unit of digital information. You’d expect the marketing team to also name their children K-Gram and C-metre – that name is trying a little too hard.
The dashboard is dominated by an enormous 48 inch display, that will distract you, regardless of what Byton say about it being positioned below your line of sight. You can tell that this outrageous living room size display gave birth in a business meeting with people dressed in perfectly ironed shirts rather than real user testing sessions. Sure, the idea is that with autonomous driving the focus will be more on entertainment, but we aren’t there yet.
The interface feels a little floaty and disconnected. Because the display is a continuous widescreen, there are no natural breaks in UI which makes it quite difficult to scan information on something that takes up your entire field of view. Remember your grandmother telling you not to sit too close to the television as it will ruin your eyesight? …well this car might come as a bit of a heart attack to grandma.
There are various gadgets built in like gesture control (which you can see working in the video above, or not working), but Byton suffers the same cancer that all the other large car manufacturers are suffering from – doing too many things with too many inputs. When it comes down to doing a task, I don’t know if I have to swipe with four fingers to the right, say the words “camel” twice or pee on the steering wheel.
But the interface looks nice, for a car.
#8 | Jaguar I-Pace
Next up is the Jaguar Land Rover. The fully electric I-Pace features some similarities with the Landy Velar so we can kill two average birds with one stone here.
The instrument cluster is an overwhelming list of menus and options that mirror much of the functionality from the infotainment screen to the side. It’s a bit like carrying around a personal phone and a work one, both can do the same thing, but half of the time you’re not sure which one to use – makes you feel important though which is the best way to sum up this car.
Overall there is logic to the interfaces, the screens are crisp and it’s evident money has been spent in research and build, but too many nested menus and high latency make it an awkward experience, wanting more refinement. Watch a short video below.
#7 | Volkswagen ID.3
It’s great seeing big names like VW embracing electric technology and there is a lot of buzz (another model in the range though much cooler in my opinion) surrounding this car, the ID3. The interfaces are totally new for this electric range and I’ve been assured will improve with the various iterations in the coming years.
A lot of swipey interactions throughout the car. For example on the steering wheel there is a view button with two arrows on each side that when swiping cycles through the cluster modes, swipey to open/close the sun roof, swipey to adjust volume up/down and so on. The only part I like about this tech is that it has built in haptic feedback which feels really natural with buttons that aren’t really physical buttons. It might feel gimmicky, but more cars should do this, more touchscreens in cars should do this. Other than that, the interface still feels like a Flash website made in 2005 that will play your myspace playlist on repeat. I mean the guy in the video did choose to play Alicia Keys… says it all.
And please OEM’s, stop trying to make your own voice assistants work. Mercedes have been trying for the last 20 years; either join the AI data companies or bin that idea completely.
#6 | Opel Corsa-e
I’m quite excited about the Opel (or Vauxhall for us Brits) Corsa, because it’s a genuine electric car for the masses. Even though the interface was locked down and I couldn’t test it much, the corsa-e sets a benchmark for other non-pompous cars. It comes with a digital cluster as standard, look! Maybe a little expensive for a first car if you’re a teenage driver, but they’ll lower the price as they figure the logistics out with time, I’m sure.
#5 | 红旗 (Hongqi) S9
Ah, now, this is an insane looking hypercar reveal from Hongqi (pronounced “hon-tsee”). If you’ve never heard of this brand before then you are foolish, as they are the Rolls Royce of China and if the interface in the new S9 is anything to go by their other luxury models it could be an interesting HMI. I tried to film it through the side window, but this as close as I was allowed to the car without being physically escorted.
#4 | Mini Electric
You can’t not like the mini, it’s small it’s cute it makes sense for it to go electric. With a new powertrain also comes a new cluster interface, which in my view is very tastefully designed. It mimics other rounded parts of the interior, the information on the screen is dynamic so the view changes depending on you driving or being parked up, the information is legible, well spaced out and simple to understand. Well done Mini, or should I say BMW (take note Alpina HMI designers).
I attempted to have one of the German representatives show off the controls to me but he was too distracted by someone trying to open the bonnet so not much talking as you’ll see in this short video.
#3 | Honda E
The Honda E, you won’t see any do***bags driving one of these which instantly makes it cool – it’s dorky, practical and cute, amazing. The inside has been designed to replicate a sort of lounge feel with natural materials all round and a giant dashboard display. There are actually 5 screens in total – one cluster, two infotainment screens and two side screens replacing physical mirrors like in the e-tron.
The interface is well designed (although looking a little Windows 10ish), buttons are large and tap-able, the text legible, the graphics are straightforward, so no real complaints. They have definitely tried to simplify and prioritise actions and information on the screen to make it more user friendly, and as a first stab at this new Honda vision, it’s great. Hopefully it will only improve from here onwards.
Ignore the dash being lit up like a Christmas tree because all the sensors were disconnected at the show, but here is a video from inside the car.
#2 | Porsche Taycan
The Taycan is somewhat of a gadget fanatics wet dream. Perhaps they are targeting the Californian Tesla buyer, but this thing is packed with tech and visuals (not to mention a first to natively integrated Apple Music), get your cheque books out Apple Fanboys. It has this super wide curved instrument cluster in front of the steering wheel, one infotainment touchscreen at the side for the driver and another for the passenger and a fourth touchscreen in the centre console for climate control and battery. If you thought “hey that’s a lot of touchscreens”, then you’d be right, but unlike the M-Byte, Porsche execute it much more tastefully.
The cluster is modular so you can cycle through various modes and bring up the map in small and large views, complex or simple gauges. It’s clear the focus is still on it being a driver’s car, and that’s an important consideration.
The colours are neutral only highlight the bare minimum to make interface useable, iconography, labels, everything is pretty spot on for what is an incredibly complex interface. This is what Audi MMI should have looked like in the first place.
And for the numero uno, the best of the best, the crème de la crème of in-car interfaces at the 2019 Frankfurt Motor Show goes to…
drum rolls please…
#1 | Polestar 2
The Swedes have nailed what the competition couldn’t. Fully electric car with plenty power, great range, luxurious interior materials and native Android Automotive. When in doubt, leave the interface stuff to the professionals. It’s a joy to interact with applications that have been built by digital product people and not physical product designers.
What can I say about Android being native in vehicles, it’s still early doors, but without a doubt will be coming to more if not almost all vehicles in the near future and Polestar has been a testing bed for it.
Quite a few things were not working yet in the demo, but the things that were did great. Possibly the most exciting feature is being able to interact with the Google assistant, arguably the best and smartest voice recognition software consumers have access to. I won’t lie, I didn’t understand every word the Swedish lady was saying because of her accent, but Google had no problem initiating a request when she interacted with it. Everything from charging stations to trip vs range are integrated into Google Maps now for smarter route calculations, so all round great great great. Nice one Volvo for making a practical and great experience in an EV.
But at the end of the day, would I buy this car for its technology?
Well, no. Would I buy any other car from the show?
Well, also no. I won’t say the “T” word, but you know who the real winner is and they don’t need to promote themselves at any show, because they are years ahead of everyone else.
If you’ve liked anything that you’ve read leave a comment or tell me I’m talking nonsense. If you’re interested in HMI and want to chat, message me or find me via www.edpiel.com I’m always around for coffee or FaceTime.