How Computer UI Has Out Paced Automotive UI

Apple Computer and iPhone User Interface Design

Most of us are familiar with the Apple Steve Job story.

How Steve was inspired by Xerox. How Xerox had first thought up the mouse user interface. How Steve had integrated that into the personal computer.

Yet he didn’t stop there.

First came the keyboard on top writers. Then came the Xerox mouse. Then Steve and his team at Apple made us fall in love with the iPod wheel. Finally, the most intuitive and versatile thing is simply the touch screen.

Where has the automotive industry been this whole time?

Famously the industry that killed off the electric car in its infancy several times over.

The automotive design industry has long been distracted by the visceral nostalgia of the past. They can’t get enough of the unregulated killer looking curves of the past. The bygone era before Ralph Nadar took ’em to task for their unbridled fashion statement wings, fins, and rocket shaped fenders.

Perhaps there’s an argument to be made that the personal computer’s time is coming. That one day regulation, too, will come knocking on the door of the tech world. Eventually, computer manufacturers will have to answer for their dopamine inducing products that reduce empathy and create withdraw effects in our youth.

Nevertheless, the comparison between the two industries is strikingly similar.

In regards to user interface, we’ve seen the trends right beneath our nose literally. We’ve watched the phone turn from physical keys into no keys at all. With physical keys we have this tactile response where one doesn’t even have to look to type on their Blackberry keyboard. Poor Blackberry couldn’t keep up with innovation. Yet, the ergonomics and benefits of not having to look at your screen when typing have largely been overlooked. Similar still is the effect now taking place in car design. Think of Tesla’s center console 17″ touch screen compared to the tactile knobs in one’s Subaru. The more traditional physical knobs allow the driver to use their muscle memory and tactile response to keep their eyes on the road while changing the station, temperature, or even shifting gears in a manual gearbox. Have you noticed the trend today?

Automotive User Interface Design

Sitting at your nearest coffee shop on the corner, sip a double espresso, and people watch for a minute or two. Notice anything? How many people walk by staring at their smart phone? It’s almost as if they’re sleep walking. Better yet, it’s like a zombie apocalypse. In some countries regulators and law makers have even created two lanes on sidewalks. One for speed walkers and the second for chimpin’ phone walkers. I’ve definitely been a phone zombie, so I include myself in that category. So, what’s the point?

The point is that user interface has much more consequence on our lives, especially as products like cars and phones become more and more commodities in our lives, and less of a luxury item. Yet, what does the future hold?

In the future, we’ll see a convergence of these two products. There will emerge a new product niche where robotic bio suites are the epitome of wearable tech today. With the dawn of universal income, what will we do with all our time? Will we see a resurgence of the Recreational Vehicle market where we relive the era of family vacations all over again? Will we see the game industry converge with the autonomous automotive industry where 16 year olds can continue their World of Warcraft levels without haste? Will drive through fast food joints become the refill stations of the future where we can recharge both our vehicle and ourselves with energy and nutrition. Where the oil that cooked our food and fills our stomachs so too refills our fuel tanks? Hopefully by then we’ll at least have a chance to benefit from competition in the marketplace where healthier alternatives in stark contrast to options today exist. In that dream, we may see faster induction charging your RV battery at the same time as solar panels, while you order and refill your kale smoothy.

In culmination, we’re witnessing a transition. A painstakingly slow transition in the automotive industry at that. The computer industry is relatively much younger and still has been able to out pace automotive. Automotive can barely keep up with syncing bluetooth with your devices. What will it take to catapult the automotive industry into tomorrow, and see some Elon Musk Tesla like disruption with a much broader generational impact?

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