Volvo is showing its take on the next generation of user interface in the latest Concept Estate, the third car in a series of concepts unveiled by the Swedish automaker since last year’s Frankfurt motor show.
Created in collaboration with Apple, the new touchscreen interface has been designed to simplify and de-clutter the cabin’s environment while simultaneously improving safety, a characteristic on which Volvo has built its reputation. The traditional selection of buttons and controls, normally strewn about the cabin have been replaced by one large tablet-like control panel in the center console. Only a few buttons — to operate crucial functions such as volume, play/pause, hazard warning and window heaters — remain.
This is the first automotive application of Apple’s new CarPlay (aka iOS in the Car) system. The Cupertino, California-based electronics manufacturer is also said to be working with Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Ford, GM, Honda, Hyundai/Kia, JLR, Mitsubishi, Nissan, PSA, Subaru, Suzuki and Toyota to develop their own individual systems that that will also use the CarPlay platform.
“The basic idea is to organize controls and information in a perfectly intuitive and user-friendly way. Everything is exactly where you expect it to be, making the drive more enjoyable, efficient, and safe,” says Volvo’s Senior Vice President Design, Thomas Ingenlath. “This goes far beyond just putting a large tablet in the center of the dashboard. We have created a digital environment that is fully integrated in the car.”
Employing Volvo’s specially designed software in conjunction with Apple’s CarPlay system, the interface blends established tablet functionality — such as swiping and pinching — with new solutions that are specially designed for the in-car environment. The touch screen also interacts seamlessly with the digital instrument cluster in front of the driver.
The layout on the portrait screen is described as a stack of flexible ‘tiles’, each displaying a key functionality. Navigation and other visual information is placed up top, within the user’s field of vision, while the telephone controls and application icons are placed lower for ease of reach. A thin notification band is located above the tiles, while the digital climate controls become the ‘foundation’ of the pile.
The new user interface is designed so that the tiles on the touch screen expand on interaction. When one of the tiles expands to display required information, the others are compressed, though they remain visible and accessible. The layout was designed to simplify user interaction and alleviate distraction, while the interface also includes thumb-reach controls on the steering wheel and a number of voice-control possibilities.
“Not having to deal with buttons and controls for a growing number of functionalities is like being freed from a pair of handcuffs,” says Interior Design Director Robin Page. “This has made it possible to build a beautiful interior architecture around the portrait screen. The concept car showcases how this user interface will be integrated in our new car generation.”
The new interface will be introduced on the next generation of Volvo cars, starting with the all-new XC90 later this year.